Ludology, Ph.D. Adventures!

Being Called Professor Blackburn Is Fun (Ph.D. Year 2, Spring Update 1)


Taught my first class. Have the first round of student feedback about the quiz (So the questions were hard enough, but I struggle to know how lenient I want to be, whether to award some points back or not…). I feel like I finally have a whole paper idea for my serious game design (SDG) theory paper, now I just need to finish it by Monday for the FDG deadline. My semester schedule and self-care and achievement dailies are keeping me on track and centered. Struggling with my sleep schedule which has made sticking to my designed schedule a bit of a struggle. 

Weekly Update Breakdown

Accomplishments Since Last Update

  • Teaching
    • Taught my first class and it went really well
    • Made my first two quizzes in Canvas (and made a couple mistakes)
  • Writing (SDG theory)
    • Made not one, but TWO pivots in my theory paper this past week! Both called for starting over from scratch! LOL. I feel like I’m never going to get published, so I am just reminding myself that, especially for design theory science, I am actually write (ha ha!) on track! However, this is the first time I feel like I have a complete paper idea!
  • Research (Project CODE)
    • Had our first meeting and met the rest of the team. They are really great and I feel honored to be the student lead on the project.
    • Learned how to do reflexive journaling. I imagine it will improve as I do it more frequently. It was actually really fun and insightful.
  • Self care dailies
    • I’ve accomplished this every day and I always feel so much more centered and healthy because of it. I also have more energy, both physically and mentally, to get through the important tasks on my list.
  • Executive
    • Set a semester schedule and bought a notepad for tracking weekly/daily tasks
    • Started (but have not quite completed) my semester plan
    • Rogelio told me at the end of last semester some tips for managing my time this semester. It is essentially a dress rehearsal for what it will be like when I am faculty — You know what, so far I am really enjoying it! One of the things he suggested was to make my class day a full teaching day. Great advice! I essentially split my week evenly into teaching and researching. The other really great advice he gave me was to keep up my dailies. I’m so glad he said that because as soon as the semester started I felt overwhelmed, but I am sticking with my dailies and they help me 1) stay centered and calmer, and 2) ensure I’m spending a little time every day on essential goal-oriented tasks.
    • I also wanted to keep my updates shorter. I did include some good news and a write-up on my dailies though, so I put my reasoning for that below. (This update is under 700 words not counting the good news and dailies)

Next Week’s Tasks

  • Writing (SDG Theory)
    • Have Monday deadline (got extended) for FDG. Going to aim for it, but okay if I miss. Will submit to CHIPLAY if I miss.
  • Teaching
    • Create quizzes 3 and 4
    • Respond to questions on quizzes 1 and 2
  • Research (Project CODE)
    • I want to have the SDG theory paper complete so that we can use the theory for designing our Project CODE artifact.

Speed Bumps & Obstacles

  • Teaching
    • I’m not sure how lenient I want to be specifically for the quiz answers. There were three questions on the first quiz that students struggled with. The first one I am sticking to my guns, they should have been paying attention in class and to the readings. But the other two… ??? 
  • Executive
    • I’m having a hard time with my sleep schedule. My day started anywhere from 4am (not on purpose) to 9am, and ended anywhere from 5:30pm to 10:30pm for work and fell asleep anywhere from 11pm-2am. I haven’t been falling asleep/staying asleep. I don’t usually struggle with my sleep schedules so much all in one week, but it’s been very erratic. It’s making it difficult to stick to specific timelines and accomplish everything on my achievement dailies and sometimes just my needed daily tasks.

Good News!

We got our Lady (that’s her name) dog back! I call her Lady Bug. She’s the sweetest, easy-going dog I’ve ever known and she’s so cute. I just adore her. This is my first time being the owner, so I’m learning all sorts of things, but Lady is such a good dog that she makes a lot of it very easy.

More on Dailies

I share this for a couple reasons:

  1. I think it’s a good system for me and so it could be helpful to others
  2. Writing is thinking. I am still refining my dailies process and it has improved loads! I know that many of the important changes I have made have come from my sharing my ideas about it on the blog. 
  3. To help keep me on track with what’s important. By writing down what is important I have actually reevaluated what my most important activities are which continues to help me move in the direction I desire.
  4. To help me keep my goals (and not just work priorities) front and center. In writing this “More on Dailies” section I realized that when I wrote my weekly tasks these past several weeks I have forgotten to check them against my goals! 

Since last semester I have been developing a system of dailies. I am still working on them, experimenting with the time I spend on them and what days, whether I do one day a week for one goal, or a little every day. 

This is where I’m at this semester:

Research and Teaching Schedule

I am essentially a full-time employee of the University this semester so having a set schedule is crucial. I specifically chose to alternate what I start with each day (teaching or researching), with my biggest priority being research, so that I am appropriately spending my time on needed activities each day throughout the week.

  • M: Teach
  • T: Research
  • W: Research/Teach
  • Th: Teach/Research
  • F: Research/Teach

My goal is to start my day at 6:30am with self-care dailies, then move on to achievement dailies, and around 9-10am start my M-F above schedule. I want to end my day by 6pm each day, with a hard line at 8pm.

Self-Care Dailies

I do my self-care dailies (updated name) first thing in the morning. There are four items on the list. As long as I accomplish the first two I’ve accomplished my self-care.

  1. Centering
  2. Joyful Movement (i.e. exercise, walk, yoga, etc.)
  3. Games
  4. Enjoy

Centering: The Centering activities are a similar list to last semester but I have updated the items and their order. I still try to keep it to 30 minutes, but to complete everything on the list takes about 45 minutes. I make sure to always do the top two every day. Then, select the ones I want to do the most until my time is up, setting a timer for 2:45 for each item. On really busy days do the top 2 and then 1-2 more and call it accomplished. These are my centering activities:

  • Prayer (Who doesn’t need a little divine guidance and support, especially in research!)
  • Scripture Study
  • Journal
  • Affirmations
  • Meditation/Deep Breathing (sometimes involves an inverted yoga pose)
  • Vision Board
  • Gratitude+ (Adventures, Victories, DoGoods, etc.)
  • Uplifting Book (Helps me enjoy life more)

Joyful Movement. I revived my workout habits last fall, but didn’t include them under my self-care dailies. Joyful Movement is all about enjoying how my body can move in space. I usually do this with some exercise, walking, stretching, and/or yoga. Since starting this back in September I am almost flat again in my side splits, and have lost 8.5 inches. Wahoo! It only takes 25-60 minutes but is broken up throughout the day.

Games. I log in to 4-5 mobile games to complete quick puzzles or a single round of Really Bad Chess. It only takes 10-15 minutes.

Enjoy. This is taking time for myself to do an activity I truly enjoy such as a hot bubble bath, running around in the snow with the dog, or listening to a good book while I walk.

Achievement Dailies

My achievement dailies (previously goal dailies) have been refined as well. I realized that I had too many things on my list and scheduled one of them for several years in the future, and the other I do 1-2 every couple weeks, but not on a daily basis. 

The idea is to 30 minutes each of the achievement dailies. However, it’s not quite working. I have been doing teaching and researching every day (probably because of my semester schedule), but I’m still struggling with accomplishing the others. So I am going to try something a little differently this week. I’ll do the top three every day at 30 minutes each day, and then spend 15 minutes or less on the remaining three. If it is a particularly busy day, then as long as I accomplished the top priorities I have accomplished my achievement dailies. 🙂

  • Top Achievement Priorities (30 minutes each)
    • Write (this is research paper or funding writing)
    • Teach (teaching tasks)
    • Research (Any needed research tasks, including more writing)
  • Get-It-In (15 minutes or less)
    • Indie Dev
    • Online Course to support LLB, NG, and possibly even NDG
    • Service (NDG, Service Roles, etc.)

So, I’m going to try that and see how it goes!

Ph.D. Adventures!

Lest I forget again… (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Weeks 7-9)


Most importantly I got one step closer for my research paper by writing up an abstract and locating appropriate references to use in the paper. I also read the comments made by Rogelio who reviewed it. The rest of the time was filled with lots of TM/TA responsibilities, dealing with more fun home ownership issues, and an impromptu fall break. And lest I forget again, several weeks back, I made some of my own very simple game art which also resolved a programming issue! Hooray!

For the Interested Reader:


Dang, three weeks went by quick!

Lest I forget again… again, nearly a month ago I made my own game art, a rounded corners square, to not only make a highly casual game I’ve been making look more polished, but it also had the wonderful side effect (after a few iterations) of solving a programming problem. I have never made my own 2D art to put in a game, so yeah me! Second, I did it using GIMP, so it’s all free to use. Third, I don’t know what I’m doing! Fourth, the first iteration of the rounded square improved the look of not only the gameplay quadrants, but the buttons as well. When I played the game I was thinking I might have to replace rounded squares in the middle of the game with regular squares except on “corners” (of which I would need to each iteration of gameplay discover whether or not a square was a “corner”), but I conjectured that if I made the art just right, when I scaled to just above 1.0, to say 1.1, then I wouldn’t need to swap or turn off any images. It took me a few iterations but it did work. I was not only correct, but I also didn’t have to spend a lot of extra time on programming. (I realize that this description may not make sense, but this is for a game I plan on publishing, my goal is by end of year, so no screenshots… yet!)

Lesson: if you can solve a programming issue with some intelligent art decisions, do it! I’d already learned this lesson at Waterford Institute when the technical artists beautiful artwork caused a load time of mere seconds to expand to 45! By making an intelligent switch, without actually changing the look of the scene, I got it to load faster than the original scene! So, smart art choices => faster load times.

For my research I looked into a potential publishing venue my advisor sent my way, we were originally targeting ACM’s CHI conference, but this new journal, which we hadn’t even been on our radar, is doing a special issue on educational games. It looks very promising but has a much sooner deadline (Feb 2021, instead of Sep 2021 for CHI), so I’m going to need to get writing!

Rogelio directed me to write up an abstract as 1) A guide to where we want to take the paper, and 2), and more importantly, to use as a potential submission to feel out the waters for a journal we are aiming to submit to. It was really useful to think through what it is we are trying to create with this new theory and where we believe it will go.

I did a lot for my TA/TM responsibilities: grading, setting up the lab computer with a new account (for me) and the Oculus for VR grading, more grading, etc. I let the professors guide when I would complete the grading as one professor got ill and fell a little behind, but that led to having to grade five assignments within a week of which I haven’t quite completed yet.

My house heater broke. So I got to deal with the fun-ness of home ownership and meeting with HVAC technicians in the middle of class! LOL!

Finally, let’s talk about fall break: I know, I know, the University of Utah didn’t have an official Fall Break this year, but my advisor gave me a week off and I took full advantage and went to one of my favorite places with my family: California. We visited my in-laws, who are wonderful people, and my brother (whom I lived with when I worked at EA). So lots of good old memories and new memories. My brother and sister-in-law have eight wonderful kids and all the cousins were excited to go swimming together on what my brother said was probably the last feasible day of the year to do so as their pool is not heated. So a years worth of telling my kids to pack their swimsuits “just in case” finally paid off!

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Read game design theory paper my advisor sent me
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Read through a school “research” paper I wrote last semester to gleen the theory I want to create from and to also highlight the papers I want to cite in my new paper.
    • Write, write, WRITE!
  • Do grading for TA
  • Continue dailies


Make sure I’m honoring the time I’ve set aside for research. I’ve had a lot of “emergencies” happen, that were legit from my or my kids perspective, but hopefully those things have subsided now so I can focus on completing my paper. However, I think if I miss my designated research times that I need to make sure I am pushing them to other days and not just skipping them entirely.

Game Dev Adventures!, Ph.D. Adventures!

I don’t wanna! (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 4)


PICKED A DIRECTION FOR MY RESEARCH THIS SEMESTER!!!!! I am going to work on writing a theory paper. I’m really excited. I also started doing 5 (instead of 15) minute goal dailies and continued my 3 minute self dailies which have really helped me manage my mood and stay a lot happier. I joined the GradSWE committee.

For the Interested Reader:


I realized late in the week that I didn’t want to do an assignment from my advisor, Dr. Rogelio, so it stopped me in my tracks on all things research. Finally, I decided to just start working on my research by doing what I want to do, doing something is better than nothing, and I got myself organized and started to get to work on my theory paper! It’s been so much FUN! I feel that my math degree was a long time ago, so I don’t remember a lot of details about how to solve specific problems. However, I am very good at how to solve problems and write proofs. It feels like I get to write one long proof which sounds very fun to me.

I had a math professor tell us that mathematicians spend months, even years or decades and a whole lot of paper trying to solve a problem, and then when they do they come out of their closets, he mimed a mathematician pointing to a paper, and they say, “See, it’s easy! It’s only six lines!” I’m in the closet phase of the research paper. That’s the fun part.

I also started programming again on a game which my Dad commissioned me to make back in 2014 (I made five whole dollars!). I made it in Unity 5, so I wanted to bring it up to date. I haven’t been able to get it updated to Unity 2019 LTS (Long Term Support), however after a week’s worth of work I was able to bring it up to 2018 LTS, though I am getting two errors in that version the game still works. It was quite the process. I tried porting it directly from 5 to 2019 but it was packed with errors. So then I ported it to 2017, made some updates, then 2018, made some updates, and finally last night I ported it to 2018 LTS, and made some updates!

My next step is to download an older version of 2019 and see if I can get the game working in that version of Unity. If I can do that it should be a much simpler task to update it to 2019 LTS. If that doesn’t work quickly I will be moving on to programming some new features for the fun casual game. I just heard about a competition that Unity is running and I might need to update it to 2020 even. It is unclear right now what I need to do for it, but I’ll make the changes as necessary.

I also took some time and drew out several design pages for the game. There is a lot I could add. So my next step on that one is to pick the most important features I want/need to add to the game, an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) if you will and implement them so I have something to submit to the competition.

I didn’t have a strong desire to participate in SWE, but when I heard about GradSWE, and after talking with the president, I decided to join the committee. I’m excited to see where it takes me.

What’s next

  • Do the programming assignment from my advisor
  • Theory paper:
    • Find papers for background information
    • Continue building my list of mapping items
  • Continue with 3 min self dailies
  • Complete all items on my 5 min goal dailies


I just need to do something I don’t want to do. I am kind of tired of writing algorithms that already exist in every game engine I will ever use, when what I really want to be doing is programming gameplay. I’m not saying it isn’t valuable to program these things, I’m just saying, I don’t wanna! Ha ha!


5 minute goal dailies

I just couldn’t get myself to even start on 15 minutes. It just felt so daunting. With six items on my list (research/writing, game development, learn interesting topic, challenge programming problems, a fun crafting project (I have a whole bin of started and want to start projects!), and then do ANYTHING F-U-N), doing 15 minutes each is 1.5 hours.

After not even doing a single thing on my list I finally decided to just start with five minutes, which would mean I would complete them all in 30 minutes, and voilà! I started on them! The idea is to spend at least five minutes and then up to 15 minutes on each item. However, I ended up spending 15, 30, even 60 minutes or more on the first two items and so found myself only getting to one or two of the other items on my list. But as the other items on my list were less urgent for me to get to, it was a good start!

The BEST news!

My daughter and son have been going to school on Mondays and Wednesdays and have been remote the other days. Well, next week my daughter starts M-Th in-person school, and the following week my son will be doing M-Th in-person school as well. I’m super excited! My daughter said she was more excited than me, but I’m not so sure… 😉