The ‘P’ in NPR



The podcast Radio Diaries recently featured an insightful interview with Bill Siemering, one of the founders of National Public Radio. In it, they discuss the original NPR mission statement written in 1969; the document outlined their vision for non-commercial radio that would bring context, culture and humanity to the news.

Mr. Siemering read a short excerpt from the mission statement on the podcast, and I was moved by how sincere and optimistic it was. I have always enjoyed NPR, and knowing the lofty ideals behind its founding only deepens my appreciation. As a media creator, their statement articulates the kind of values that I aspire to express in my own work. In fact, I was so impressed and inspired that I wanted to share some brief quotes from it here (courtesy of the transcription by Transom.org).

National Public Radio will serve the individual, it will promote personal growth, it will regard the individual differences with respect and joy, rather than derision and hate. It will celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied, rather than vacuous and banal. It will encourage a sense of active, constructive participation, rather than apathetic helplessness.


The total service should be trustworthy, enhance intellectual development, expand knowledge, deepen aural aesthetic enjoyment, increase the pleasure of living in a pluralistic society, and result in a service to listeners which makes them more responsive, informed human beings and intelligent, responsible citizens of their communities and the world.


It would speak with many voices and many dialects. The editorial attitude would be that of inquiry, curiosity, concern for the quality of life, critical problem solving, and life loving. The listener should come to rely upon it as a source of information of consequence, of having listened as having made a difference in his attitude toward his environment and himself.


National Public Radio will not regard its audience as a market, or in terms of its disposable income, but as curious, complex individuals who are looking for some understanding, meaning, and joy in the human experience.

I’ve highlighted a few sections that I thought were particularly eloquent. You can read NPR’s entire original mission statement here.

To relate this to my own work, I wonder how a video game could “celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied”. How can we engage our players as “curious, complex individuals” with “a sense of active, constructive participation”? I don’t have any clear answers, but I’ll aspire to keep such objectives at the heart of my creative work.

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Twice Around The Sun (For Good Measure)


If you’ll excuse a brief lapse into meta-blogging, I’m proud to announce that The Quixotic Engineer is two years old today! As I did last year, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on another year of writing.

Feed Statistics

This chart shows how the site’s RSS subscriptions have grown since June 2008 (according to Feedburner.) These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but they do illustrate that I’ve had a very fortunate year! The big spike in October came from being linked by Kotaku and the front page of Digg in the space of a week (many thanks to Maggie Greene.)

This year I wrote 41 posts, overhauled my blog design twice, and made my first two non-trivial games: Inventory Tetris and Rockwell, Papyrus, Skia. There’s more to come! I’m currently hard at work on a substantially larger secret project in pygame, and experimenting with flixel when I have a moment to spare.

More significantly, this last year saw the game blogging community really begin to gel. The conversation that started in blogs and comments moved to Twitter and the #GBConfab IRC channel, then came full circle as cross-posts, podcasts and shared experiences. The game writing archive Critical Distance was born out of this spirit of collaboration, and will hopefully serve to further expand the conversation.

In fact, the game blogging community is already so large that I do not feel that I can adequately thank everyone individually. Therefore, I’d like to thank all of you for your support, your critical insight, and your humour. I look forward to many more trips around the sun writing and learning with you all.

To all my quieter readers: thanks for sticking around, and happy Canada day!

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Happy Single Earth Orbit!


I’ve done my best to resist celebrating arbitrary milestones in this blog. I silently hit my 100th post a while back, as well as various fractions of a year. However, you’ll have to excuse my pride now as The Quixotic Engineer is one year old today.

Feed Statistics

For the curious, here’s a chart of my RSS subscription growth over the last year. The first big peak was the day my Gmail spam post was linked by Lifehacker, and the count has been steadily growing ever since. The occasional sharp valleys are days when Google Reader didn’t publish a subscriber count.

Writing this blog has been rewarding in ways that I really did not expect. The most obvious benefit is that my writing ability has significantly improved through frequent practice. I’ve also had a chance to learn a great deal about web technologies, such as PHP, JavaScript, XHTML and feed syndication (RSS.) Furthermore, I’ve worked with some great open source applications, such as GIMP, Audacity, and WordPress.

More importantly, I’ve had a chance to get to know some really interesting people. Blogging is largely a social activity, and I think that getting to know fellow bloggers with similar interests is the best part. Many thanks to Michael, Nav, Leigh, Mitch, Dan, Ben, Corvus, Daniel, Dave and Tim for all the stimulating and thoughtful conversations and debates.

Thank you to all my other (quieter) readers as well. It’s very edifying when someone likes your writing enough to stick around. I’ll do my best to keep writing quality posts in the future. One year down, here’s to many many more!

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The Watermelon Analogy


A simple circuit

As part of the Software Engineering curriculum, I was required to take “Principles of Electrical Engineering” this semester. This is a mandatory course for all engineers at Concordia, so the class was full of people working in a somewhat unfamiliar domain. It was a tough course, but fortunately I had a good background in electromagnetism from my pure & applied science Cégep degree (Cégep is pre-university in Quebec.)

One thing I noticed while taking the class was how most students simply reduced the circuit analysis to math and never bothered to properly grok how electrical systems actually work. I was definitely guilty of this as well; I have only a very abstract notion of what capacitors actually do but know enough to blindly calculate their impedance. Indeed, some of my classmates had only a vague notion of the physical difference between voltage and current.

I’ve had to explain the basics of electricity to others once or twice in my lifetime, and I’ve come up with a rather simple analogy to do so. As a disclaimer, I’ll repeat that I’m not an electrical engineer and have only a rudimentary knowledge of electrical systems. There are many good analogies to explain how electricity works, and I happen to like this one.


Imagine the circuit as a system of roads, and on these roads are trucks delivering watermelons. Why watermelons you ask? Because they’re delicious, don’t ask silly questions. These trucks drive around the circuit, picking up watermelons (charges) at the farms (voltage/current sources) and dropping them off at the markets (resistors.) Therefore:

  • The trucks are the charge carriers, and number of trucks is analogous to the current (amperes.) In other words, a current of 10A in a systems can be viewed as having ten trucks driving around.
  • The voltage (volts) is comparable to the number of watermelons. Saying the potential difference across a resistor is 40V is analogous to saying 40 watermelons were dropped off at that market.
  • Resistance (ohms) is the number of watermelons per truck that need to be dropped off at the market. If a resistor has a value of 10 ohms, then each truck that passes it will drop off 10 watermelons.

Ohm's Law

How well does this analogy hold up? It properly illustrates Ohm’s law, the quintessential electrical formula. The law states that potential difference across a resistor (V) is equal to the current (I) times the resistance (R). In other words, the number of watermelons dropped off at a market is equal to the number of watermelons per truck times the number of trucks.

As with most analogies, this is a rather gross simplification. Amperage is not actually a measure of the number of charge carriers, but rather the number of charge carriers per second. In many ways electrical charge (Coulombs) is a better analogy for the number of trucks, and amperage for a more general “flow of traffic.” Furthermore, voltage is actually defined as the amount of energy in Joules (watermelons?) per charge carrier (truck.)

Despite its flaws, I feel that the watermelon truck analogy does a better job of defining charge carriers and potential than the popular water comparison. If you have an analogy that worked for you when learning about electricity, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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By Popular Request


Don QuixoteSince it’s a common question, I thought I’d address it with a quick guide to pronouncing the word quixotic. The confusion is well warranted; while it’s derived from the Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote (roughly KEE-HOE-TAY), the word quixotic has an anglicized pronunciation (KWIK-SO-TIC).

I found a few definitions of the word on the net, but I most preferred this one from Wikipedia: “Quixotism is the description of a person or an act that is caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals. It also serves to describe an idealism without regard to practicality.” Engineers are practical by definition, but as a nerd who believes in open-source software, video games as art and harnessing nuclear fusion (someday!), I can’t help but feel like a dreamer at times.


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