Friday, May 1, 2015

Partner Wanted

I'm looking for a partner for my big idea. Read about it here.

I'm interested in a 50-50 partnership, and ideally the division of labor would be as follows:
  • Me:
    • Programming
  • Partner:
    • Administrative work (taxes and other paperwork)
  • Shared
    • Teaching
    • Doing art with kids
    • Constructing the arcade cabinet with kids
    • Making sales pitches to schools
    • Everything else
My ideal business partner would have education experience and a passion for innovation. No programming experience is necessary, but comfort with computers goes a long way. Being detail oriented is also a plus.

I would like to launch this business in New England, so if you live in the area and are interested, please email me at fegleynick (at) gmail (dot) com.

My Big Idea Pt.2

The Game

I substitute teach at a K-8 school, and for the last few months, I have been making a video game with the help of the art teacher and all her students. You can play it here. It's a work in progress, and at the time of my writing this, there are about 12 completed levels.

The kids come up with level themes and do some level design, and then the art teacher sends me their work and some instructions. I do some a lot of programming, and in the end each class gets their own level.

A sprite sheet for one of the levels
The kids then have the opportunity to send me feedback through the menu on the left of the game screen. And they do. A lot. Feedback is varied, and I include some of it here because it makes me smile:
The whole game was really cool, but when I got to the end, where the blue castle/tower is, I had no idea what to do!!!
maybe you should make the boats a little faster
This is really hard but really cool. I like the effects. Something you could work on is putting more features in.
i really likes the game! i just wish that when u get to the end of the level there is somethnh like that say congradulations or somethings
These are just some of the emails that students have sent me through the feedback form.  It's exciting to see students invested in a project.

The Machine

When I'm not working on the game, I'm working on my arcade machine:

My scratch-built, fully function prototype

This is just a prototype, so it's pretty ugly, but it's fully functional. The monitor is just an old (barely functional) CRT TV because it looks a whole lot better than an HD monitor.
The version in the picture is running off of a Raspberry Pi, but I recently switched to a Beelink Pocket. There's also an Arduino Micro in there that converts button and joystick presses into keyboard input.
The board I made to connect the Arduino with the computer.

 The Big Idea

What I would like to do is build arcade games with students professionally. Everything I've done to date has been for fun, but I don't have the time and financial stability to continue much longer without monetizing in some way.

I'm envisioning an artists in residence program that pushes into a school for a week. During that time, students would break into groups and each group would be responsible for some part of the game development:
  • Story and Level Design
  • In-game Art
  • Digital Image Editing
  • Cabinet Construction
  • Wiring and Soldering
  • Cabinet Art
  • Sound Design
No one student will learn the whole process, but together the students will construct an arcade cabinet that they could play in the cafeteria/library/art room for years to come.

This is an ambitious project, but I believe that it has the opportunity to really change how students view themselves and the games they play.

My Big Idea Pt. 1

Mortal Kombat II

About four years ago I was working as a bartender in a small restaurant/resort. The owner had a few dated arcade games that I'd sometimes play after work. One day he came to me and offered to give me a broken Mortal Kombat II game, and I loaded it on a trailer, and transported it to my parents' garage.

MK II in my parents' garage.
Upon getting it home, the first thing I did was open it up and look inside.

It was amazing.

Before opening the machine, I had always assumed arcade games ran on magic. The act of opening it was one of the most empowering things I've done. Seeing how the wires connected, and realizing that I could (with some time and money) make my own, made me feel powerful. Games weren't magic, they were technology, and I could control that. I felt as though I had been let in on some cosmic secret, and I knew in that moment I would stop at nothing give others the same experience.

A couple of months later, I didn't have enough money to make some repairs on my car, and I reluctantly sold the MK II machine. I almost entirely forgot about the whole thing.

Time Runs Out

Three years later. I was working as a substitute teacher (I still am) and I ended up in a fourth grade classroom. I saw a student drawing a picture, and I asked him if he could draw me a picture. The next week he gave me this masterpiece:
Time Runs Out

I knew that this picture wanted to be a video game more than anything, and that weekend I went home and made it one. You can play it here. It was one of my first attempts at writing a game in JavaScript, and looking back there's a lot I could do to improve it, but I still think it came out ok.

The next week I showed the student the game. He was ecstatic. I watched him play a game that he made, and saw a look on his face that reminded me of the time I opened the MK II game. For him, video games were just this little pocket of magic the existed on the internet or on an X-Box, but in that moment they became something he could do. He was empowered. It was awesome.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Comics in the Math Classroom

Here are some resources for people that went to my talk on Comics and Graphic Novels in the Math Classroom at this year's NEMATYC conference.

In the presentation, I made reference to the Kuleshov Effect

As well as this really great video about how we learn:

And here is a list of comics that I recommend:


The Cartoon Guide to Calculus
The Cartoon Guide to Statistics
The Manga Guide to Calculus
The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra
The Mystery of the Prime Numbers

Science and Humanities

Wonderful Life with the Elements
The Manga Guide to Physics
The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry
Economix (Highly Recommended)
Action Philosophers


Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Abstruse Goose
Spiked Math
Phd Comics


Logicomix (Highly Recommended)
Suspended in Language

Comics Theory and History

Understanding Comics (Very Highly Recommended)
Making Comics
The Comic Book History of Comics

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ambiguity in Language: Purple People Eater

Well he came down to earth and he lit in a tree,
I said "Mr. Purple People Eater, don't eat me!"
I heard him say in a voice so gruff:
"I wouldn't eat you cuz you're so tough."
This is one of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog, but it never really felt finished it. So it sat un-posted and forgotten until recent events inspired me to finally post it. It still feels unfinished.

Purple People Eater is a song is about a "One eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater" that came to Earth to start a rock 'n roll band, and it goes a little something like this:

Most people imagine some sort of cycloptic, horned, purple monster that flies and eats people. This is a legitimate interpretation, but not the only one. Not even the correct one. Listen again to the verse that starts at 0:50:
I said Mr. Purple People Eater, what's your line?
He said, "Eating purple people, and it sure is fine."
According to these lyrics, the purple people eater eats purple people. This indicates that you or I should be safe (though this guy is pretty much screwed), and that Mr. Purple People Eater will most likely be pretty hungry on a planet without purple people (like ours). This is not how most people interpret it, including the creators of the 1988 Purple People Eater Movie:

The ambiguity stems from the fact that English is not associative and there is no convention for order of operations. Should the expression be evaluated from the right: purple (people eater), or from the left: (purple people) eater. [footnote 1] If we include the entire description, there are actually 5 possibilities:

Once you know to look for it, ambiguity is everywhere: Is a "big, bad dog catcher" a catcher of big, bad dogs, or a dog catcher that's big and bad? Is Dr. Seuss's book about ham and green eggs, or green eggs and green ham? Is Clifford a big, red dog, or a Big Red dog [foot note 2]? What does Candice mean when she asks for an X-Ray of a Kangaroo with three legs?

LEFT: An X-Ray (of a Kangaroo with three legs)
RIGHT: An X-Ray of a Kangaroo (with three legs)

Is this strange ambiguity unique to English, or do other languages get bogged down by purple people eaters as well? I asked around, and here is a short summery of my results:

Purple People Eater
Cantonese Chinese
1. 紫色食人物
2. 食紫色人的物體
Mandarin Chinese
1. 紫色食人者 
2. 食紫色人者 
Spanish [3]
Comedor de gente purpura
(Alternatively: Come gente purpura)
Ο άνθρωπος που τρώει μωβ άνθρωποι
1. Lila Menschenfresser
2. Der Ungeheuer frisst lila menschen
3. Der lila Ungeheuer frisst menschen
Albanian [4]
 Njerzit ngjyrë manushaqe ngrënës



[1] Here the parenthesis are being used to group words, not to indicate a parenthetical statement.


Hooray Puns!

[3] My Spanish speaking friend points out a bonus ambiguity: "Purpura" is neither masculine or feminine, so if "purpura" describes the eater, then it's unclear whether the eater is male or female.

[4] My Albanian friend's handwriting is not fantastic, so there may be some errors

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Let's Get Mobius Up In Here

Here is an applet to explore the function $$\phi(z) = \frac{z - \lambda}{1 - z \bar{\lambda}}$$ for $| \lambda | \leq 1$. In the bottom left is the unit disc with Darth Vader super imposed on it. On the top is also the unit disc. For each point $|z| < 1$, the applet determines the color of $\phi(z)$ and and then colors $z$ that color.

The unit disc on the bottom right allows you to adjust $\lambda$. Just click anywhere in the unit disc and $\lambda$ will change appropriately.

Note that this demonstrates that $\phi$ maps the unit disc to itself. Click here for a proof.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Magic Squares

"Alright settle down, Tom, don't you dare throw that paper airplane. (Alright! We have a sub!) You all know the deal, sit down. Mrs. G. left instructions to have you do the Scholastic Math (I hate those!) but she also said that if I wanted, I could do something else (Yeah!).

"So here's the deal, everyone has to draw this grid on piece of paper...

"...and fill in each of the squares with the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, and 9. (Is this like Sudoku?) It's a little like Sudoku. (I hate Sudoku.) Ok, it's nothing like Sudoku. You have to put the numbers so that all the columns add to 15 and all the rows add to 15. If you're really bright (Well that leaves me out.) then try and get it so that the diagonals add to 15 as well.

"(This looks hard.) It is hard. (I suck at math.) That's ok, math is hard, just keep trying."


"(Oh, I think I have it!) Awesome! Now try for the four by four case.

"(What numbers do we use?) You have to use 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15, and 16. (What do they add up to). I don't know. (You're not going to tell us what they add up to?) Nope. (Then it's impossible.) No it's not. (How can we make all the rows and columns add to the same number if you don't tell us what they have to add to?) Maybe you should try and figure it out. (How?) I don't know. Anyone have any ideas?

"(Add up all the numbers and then divide four.) That's an awesome idea. (Can we use calculators?) No. (But...) No. (But...) No. (You're mean.) Yep. (So we have to add up all the numbers by hand?) That's not how I would do it. (How would you do it?) I would start by adding all the numbers twice:
 "Why might I do that? (Because you're crazy?) Any other ideas? No? Well, what's 1+16? (17) and what 2+15? (17) and what's 3+14 (17) and what's the pattern here? (They're all 17!) And how many 17s are there? (16)
"(So the answer is 17 times 16?) (That's magic!) Not so quick. Remember that I added all of the numbers twice. (So the answer is 17 times 16 divided by 2?) Yes, that will give you the total. (Can we use calculators now?) Of course not. (So we have to do 17 times 16 by hand?) Not at all. Who can tell me how to simplify this?
"(Cancel the 2) And? (17 times 8... is that the answer?) Well we wanted to divide the answer by 4, remember?
"(So it's 17 times 2) What's that? (34!) Fantastic! Alright, somebody figure out the 4 by 4 case. (And then are you going to make us do the 5 by 5 case?) Yep."


Of the three seventh grade classes I taught (about twenty students a piece), three students managed to solve the 4 by 4 magic square. One student skipped recess to work on it. Many students did not take to this assignment. One girl in particular was straight-up pissed. (Things were thrown.) Eventually though, she figured it out and was elated.