Want to be in a survey? Sure you do!

Faithful (and not so faithful) readers of my rather dull website, help me with my PhD research by filling out a little survey.  It’s completely anonymous and only takes about 10 minutes to complete — even less if you’re a fast clicker and thinker.  One other speculation: you need to be at least 18 years old.

You can complete the survey here (*edit* the survey is now turned off as of 5/28/2011).

Thanks for reading and hopefully completing the survey.

Exercise and the Diabetic

I think it is pretty safe to say that everyone has heard that exercise (in addition to a good diet) is a good way to keep yourself in shape and in better health.  In the newest Diabetes Forecast they have an article discussing the benefits of exercising.  Exercise does the obvious things such as improving blood glucose control and reducing the risk of diabetic complications but it can also combat heart problems, weight gain and depression.  The short-term effects of exercise can be felt from two hours afterward up to three days later and according to some doctors exercising every other day is great, but exercising every day is even better.

In terms of exercising it was found that a mixture of aerobic and resistance training have the greatest improvements in their A1C rates (A1C is an accurate measurement of blood glucose levels in the body for the last two or three months).  However, any sort of exercise helps reduce the A1C value and hence, have better blood glucose levels.  It is also suggested that a diabetic person do 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week in addition to two or three strength training sessions within the week as well.  This is important since people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die of heart disease than those who are non-diabetic.  These risk factors are due to high levels of blood fat (triglycerides and cholesterol) and high blood pressure present in most diabetics.  And now the kicker (which is probably also valid for non-diabetics) has to deal with weight loss.  To lose weight at least an hour a day of exercise should be done along with a diet to reduce the amount of calories taken in.  A study done found that in person who lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for the entire year of the study were exercising on average seven hours a week.

Obviously, it looks like being a diabetic the idea of exercise shouldn’t be something that is taken lightly.  It is like the rest of what happen, you change your lifestyle in order to take control of it as opposed to letting it control you.

Reversing Type 1 Diabetes

The Faustman Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital has been working on a vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes using a generic drug Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG).  The experiments have passed every research milestone ahead of schedule and and the Phase I safety trial in humans is almost complete.  In Phase II they will study the dosage and frequency of the administration to reverse Type 1 Diabetes.  The kicker in all of this is that BCG is a generic drug that has been in use for over 80 years as a vaccine.  BCG has the ability to attack and destroy auto-immune disorder causing T-cells while causing the release of new healthy T-cells at the same time.  BCG also does not attack the healthy T-cells so the autoimmune system is left in-tact.  With the immune system working properly it allows the pancreas to regenerate the islet cells and start producing insulin again. I hope the second phase of the testing works as well as the first, as much as I like the idea of being a cyborg, I like the idea of not having to worry about pricking my fingers, replacing pods, insulin and batteries and being healthy a whole lot more.

A much more in-depth article about the research can be read here and more information about the Faustman Lab is here.

Some Background on Interactive Storytelling

I’ve been hesitant to post about research-related topics on my personal website but I’ve decided I might as well since it might help me get more inspiration as I share this information with nameless people on the Internet.  This is a very quick overview of Interactive Storytelling and the main computer science research that it builds upon.  I’ve only touched on a few of the Interactive Storytelling systems since the four mentioned are ones I’m most familiar with.

I. A Quick Introduction

Interactive Storytelling has been described by multiple names: Interactive Drama, Drama Management and Interactive Fantasy to name a few.  The main idea however stays the same: place the user in a virtual world containing possibilities for dramatic situations.  The user interacts with the world revealing the story through interactions and modifying the story through  the interactions.  Interactive Storytelling can trace its roots back to story creation research, then to Brenda Laurel’s PhD dissertation “Toward the Design of a Computer-Based Interactive Fantasy System” in 1986, followed by Weyhrauch’s dissertation “Search-Based Drama Management” in the early 90s.  From this point the paths diverge based on what the researchers wish to exploit.  Some wish to have the story run in real-time working to guide the user to the optimal place within the word to witness an event to guide the user through the story, such as Magerko’s Interactive Drama Architecture.  Others allow the user to move at their own pace while modifying the story to suit the user – like Mateas’ Facade, Fairclough’s OPIATE and Thue’s PaSSAGE.

II. Story Creation

Story creation research attempts to have the computer create a coherent story based upon a set of logical methods.  The initial research into the area was Mehan’s TALESPIN.  TALESPIN used a logic solver to solve a set of logical statements then using these logical steps to author the story.  For instance, it would define Bucky the squirrel as being hungry, a tree with a nut within it, a chair which Bucky could move and the fact eating a nut would solve Bucky’s hunger.  The solver would then solve to make Bucky the squirrel not hungry by having Bucky see the nut within the tree, moving the chair to the tree, hopping on the chair to grab the nut and then eating the nut.  These steps could then be turned into a simple story.  TALESPIN was able to create procedural stories that described actions the characters were taking and complete it upon that, however, it was missing internal rationalization, metaphors and other common literary techniques.

Minstrel was the next notable entry into story creation.  The researcher, Turner, believed that creativity could be approximated by using a case-based reasoning system to write the story so when a situation where no experience was recorded, it could create a response based on similar cases within the system.  Minstrel used meta-level goals and plans that described what the author was trying to achieve then views the writing of the story as a problem solving exercise by invoking the case-based reasoner.

The latest research in story creation is BRUTUS.  BRUTUS creates tales of betrayal and heartbreak using many knowledge base sources in order to change the setting, characters, betrayal type and tone of the story.  It’s overall goal is to create a story that is sufficiently different from its initial logic definitions and knowledge representation.

III. Interactive Storytelling

In 1986, Brenda Laurel proposed a system that could handle a first-person interactive virtual world.  Her dissertation listed out 13 functions that must be handled by any system in order to create a working interactive fantasy world; but, proposes no way to solve the problems and in the words of Chris Crawford “it is a wish list and not a plan.”  This was, however enough to set the foundation for Search Based Drama Management (SBDM).

SBDM was the first attempt at controlling an interactive story such that the story is rearranged to better tell the story according to a set of author-defined metrics and an algorithm that can effectively guide the plot.  A Drama Manager used an adversarial search algorithm (based off of a min-max game tree algorithm) to determine the best move for the drama manager to execute based on the user’s moves.  A drawback to SBDM is that what the author considers a good story is not always what the user considers a good story.

Facade is widely considered to be the first fully realized interactive drama system.  It offers a complete, real-time, first-person dramatic experience with a character-driven story.  Facade’s story is broken down into beats. The beats tightly integrate the story and actions for the AI controlled characters and are the smallest unit of plot, such as a line of dialog and the associated reaction from an AI-controlled character.  A director agent coordinates the behavior of the AI characters with the beat enacted and makes the decisions on which beat to enact next.

OPIATE is much different than SBDM and Facade since it uses no direct input from an author.  The user’s actions are the sole motivator in determining how the emergent story flows.  The virtual world contains non-player characters (NPCs), items and different settings. The NPCs have an array of likeness variables that describe how the NPCs perceive the user (sometimes called Player Character or PC) and the other characters. The NPCs also have a simple vocabulary that allows them to gossip with one another and affect each other’s perceptions of the other characters. During play, the case-based reasoning system chooses an encounter based upon the state of the characters and items within the world. The reasoner compares each character and item in the world for the given roles specifed in each encounter and determines a total suitability value for the encounter. If no suitable encounter is found, up to three encounters can be combined to create a new encounter to satisfy the threshold value for an acceptable encounter. Once an encounter is selected, the NPCs that best fit each role in the encounter are given their roles within the encounter and the user is then engaged by the appropriate characters to begin the quest.

The final system I’ll describe is PaSSAGE.  PaSSAGE, like OPIATE has an emergent story.  Users progress through the world interacting with characters and completing encounters in order to be given a new one.  PaSSAGE uses a user model that tabulates the way in which the player is interacting with the world, as quests are completed the user model is used to determine the next quest the user will be given.

IV. Conclusion

This quick overview of Interactive Storytelling will hopefully give you a little insight into what Interactive Storytelling is and some of the current research in the field.

Feel free to leave questions and comments (but no concerns!) and I’ll either update the page or answer the question in the comments section.