Monday, 12 September 2011

Why you need a community manager

I'm looking for work in social media as a community manager with experience in analysis. Not all companies know why they need one of those, so I'll tell you. Remember the good old days of SEO? With cleverly chosen keywords and links, you could get your site on the top of the search results in Google, and on a PPC basis you could appear on the paid links as well. That doesn't work as well any more. Nor does plain old advertising.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Open Letter to Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

I read on Mashable that you intend to attack Facebook in the name of protecting my privacy. I don't appreciate that at all. You claim you are fighting "a battle for choice and informed consent. Facebook keeps saying that it gives users choices, but that is completely false." If you succeed in taking down Facebook you are removing my choice to be a part of it. You cannot fight for freedoms by taking them away.

I am aware that Facebook monitors and sells my data and I don't mind that at all. You present the idea of them accessing and using my data to make money as if it

London Riots - My idea on how to deal with looters.

Anti-riot: Operation 
Cup of Tea
Everything seems to have quieted down now, although we've been hearing a lot of sirens in the background today. I live in a residential area not near any shops so have had no looting locally, although I've heard rumours of local high streets being hit.
I've seen the idea bandied about to hit looters and rioters with water cannons loaded with smart water or indelible dye, which I think is a lovely idea. That way, all those present can be easily identified later. There is no such thing as an 'innocent' bystander. The police very clearly asked people to stay in and stay away so they could get to work. Anybody still spectating would be actively hindering police and fire departments from doing their job.

But what to do with the looters once they're caught? Put them in jail? What's the

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Sharing and owning. Social media and gamification.

I read a lot about social media and gamification. Social media are a great platform for people to get and stay in touch with one another, for brands and people to connect, for information to travel freely. Gamification is a way to measure progress and motivate. Especially gamification is however often lambasted for being hollow and cynical. Rebranding real-world goals as game goals, and measuring real-world progress in points is seen by some as a reduction of true interaction.

I don't think it is a reduction. It's more like a restructuring that we need in order to be happy. Jane McGonigal pointed out in a TED-talk that people were already playing

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Six to Start and BBC Team Up for “The Code Challenge”

Six to Start and the BBC have teamed up to create a transmedia experience tied in with BBC Two documentary The Code, expected to air at the end of July. The Code is presented by Professor of Mathematics Marcus du Sautoy (Horizon on BBC2, The Beauty of Diagrams on BBC4) and explores how the world around us conforms to and can be explained by mathematical codes. Six to Start are next-generation storytellers with plenty of experience creating storytelling projects for different clients, often in the form of alternate reality games or treasure hunts. They’ve worked with the BBC before on projects like Spooks: Code 9 and Seven Ages Quest. As a first for the BBC and possibly a world first, an interactive experience called The Code Challenge has been seamlessly integrated in the writing and filming of The Code since inception. Viewers can participate in an

Monday, 6 June 2011

Get real!

If you live in the real world, which one am I in?

Sometimes I get upset with typical things people say that simply make no sense. How often have you read or heard someone exclaim that they live 'in the real world', implying that whoever has incurred their pet hate for the day, does not? Parents tell teenagers about the real world; opposition politicians love to imply that the ruling politicians do not inhabit the real world; people of a certain class, income level, or job-type will readily claim that others aren't in the real world. My question then: if I'm not in the real world, then where am I? Even in multiverse theory, every possible world is real. Of course, the word 'real' is meant more metaphorically, as an indication of socio-economic circumstances. But my problem remains. What could possibly make a plumber's life more real than a banker's? An adult's more than a child's? An economist's more than a person on a low wage? We all observably and obviously inhabit the same reality.

A similar mistake that gets my goat is when people think that crimes are a state of mind. As much as some governments might like to, it's actually impossible both practically and legally to detect or punish thought crimes. Repeatedly I read in the paper (paraphrased): "I wasn't really speeding, I'm not a boy racer." "I said some things while drunk, but I'm not a racist." Tough luck. The law doesn't punish people for what they are, it deals with what people do. Driving too fast is against the law, no matter what your state of mind was while you did it. Directing certain terms at people is against the law; whether or not you are a racist can never be determined anyway.

That's how it works in the real world.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What's Twitter?

I flagged a few interesting things to blog about over the last few days, and I realised there were very different views and news on Twitter. What's Twitter?

It's a social media platform where anybody can leave little messages of 140 characters. You follow the tweets you want in your feed, and then there's hashtags, @mentions, and retweets.

You know all this. But what is Twitter?

Is Twitter a published medium (like a newspaper) or a public conversation (like you and me talking and being overheard at a bus stop)? Does it have, or is it a responsible publisher? Is it censored or free? Is it social media or a marketing tool? Can it also be a payment method?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Crowdsourcing moderation

I work as a moderator of user generated content and when I first spotted this link: in my twitterfeed, I had a short moment of panic. Was this automated moderating software? Would I be replaced by a robot? I shouldn't have worried, because the link was tweeted by @Crowdsourcing_ so it's all still all about people. Contentmoderator works via ScalableWorkforce, which in turn is a platform enhancing Amazon's Mechanical Turk. The service Contentmoderator provides to companies, brands, or anyone hosting content online, is that their content will be moderated against their own choice of guidelines by trusted moderators. The system seems to be that the

Monday, 16 May 2011

Gamification is the future, but not as we know it.

Dr Richard A. Bartle, Senior Lecturer and Visiting Professor of Computer Game Design at the University of Essex, UK is often quoted by, well pretty much anyone involved with gamification... And I'm just about to disagree with him. I just read Will Gamification be Ubiquitous in 5 Years? on Gametuned, and although I believe Dr. Bartle makes a few good points, he's missing some important new developments. Either that, or his and my definition of gamification just don't agree.

In the slides for his recent talk, Dr. Bartle seems to focus on the type of gamification that is often used by marketing departments to bribe people into behaviour they like to see (buying things or free advertising). This sort of gamification is not made by game designers and is driven mostly by extrinsic rewards. He explains quite correctly why this sort of gamification does not work in

Friday, 13 May 2011

Sock it to me

My vintage sock puppets.
Prepare to work your socks off at Socks Inc., the factory where we make believe. Socks Inc. is the largest employer of sock puppets in the world and if you play your cards right, you too could be hired, today! All you have to do is make your own sock puppet (you can find a tutorial here), go the website and get started. Socks Inc. will send you on countless storytelling missions that will keep you on your toes.

To begin, you log in to the website using either the Facebook login button, or an off-Facebook login for younger players, and enter the factory. This game is not played in real time, which means you can play whenever you like, for as long as you like, and even replay your favourite missions. The main storyline is explored in the boss’, Mr. Barnsworth’s, office, with other themes, stories and missions available in

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Don't extinct, excel!

I recently got into a discussion with some people on Facebook. A friend had posted a link about the impact of humans on the environment and some of his friends mentioned being supporters of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. I couldn't keep quiet even though I generally know better than to argue with extremists on the internet. To my mind, anyone who advocates human extinction is depressed and suicidal on a species-wide scale and needs some mental health care. Obviously, I do realise humans haven't been taking very good care of their environment, but to extinct us just isn't normal and natural behaviour. The VHEM has a lot of arguments for their case on their website, and a lot of them are fallacious or at best one-sided half-truths. My two main arguments in favour of the presence of the human race on this planet are featured as well.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Cloud Girlfriend - less cloudy more real

Cloud Girlfriend has gone live. It didn't quite turn out to be the kind of game I had envisioned at first. Instead of interacting with a fully fictional character, the aim is now for both men and women to join and create fictional versions of themselves. These super-avatars will then have 'dates' with each other, and may eventually decide to meet each other in real life.

The initial pitch presented romance as an alternate reality game with a written or scripted non-player antagonist, played entirely online. The version that has now emerged takes cloud romance out of the virtual and connects it to real life. But it's not quite a dating service and it's still definitely not about tricking people. Unlike online dating sites

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Parenting Game

I've begun working on a parenting game recently. When I say 'working', I mean I came up with the idea and I've starting thinking about how it could be done. Some of this thinking I've done online and some of my friends on Gameful have already helped with some feedback and good ideas.

So here's my pitch:

One of the areas of life that could benefit from an added layer of gamification could be parenting. Parents often feel daunted, pressured, criticized, insecure, or indecisive, not to mention under-appreciated both by other adults and society, and by their own kids! Even though being a parent is one of the most intrinsically rewarding things one can do, it isn't always fun.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Regeneration and rejuvenation: science fiction... right?

Having just watched Susan Lim and Anthony Atala talk on TEDMED, I'm amazed at what modern science can already do. They can take adult stem cells and turn them back into fully versatile stem cells - similar to embryonic stem cells but without the ethical dilemmas - and use them to regrow broken organs in the body. Another option is to take working cells from the bit of body you need to repair and grow more of them in a Petri dish. Then you take the cells, put them on a 'scaffold' and grow a whole new organ. There's actually someone out there who has a working bladder grown in a lab from her own bladder cells more than a decade ago.

I wonder if this would work for pituitary glands, and other glands in the body? The current research seems to focus on kidneys and livers because that's what the majority of people on the waiting lists for donor organs are waiting for. Are pituitaries more complex than kidneys and livers, or similar?

I imagined a cyborg solution to the problem of broken pituitaries, using nanotechnology. It seems the cell biology approach is the more likely candidate for success.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Discover History at NYPL and Find the Future

According to Jane McGonigal, gamers tend to read books more than they watch TV. Books give us big ideas and inform our imaginations, create new worlds and take us on amazing adventures. Oddly enough, the place where books are kept and made available, the library, does not usually fill us with the same sense of wonder. The New York Public Library wants to change that perception. The library’s goal is to “inspire people around the world to see libraries as a place where they can achieve their dreams and invent their own future” and “show off NYPL as a space for active creation and social collaboration.” To do this, the library has developed Find the Future, an interactive experience that guides visitors through the many artifacts housed at the New York Public Library. The game is directed by Jane McGonigal and her husband Kiyash Monsef, and designed and developed by Playmatics and Natron Baxter Applied Gaming.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Alternate reality game Chore Wars

My family and I have recently started playing Chore Wars, an alternate reality game that allows you to gain experience points for doing household work. It's an incredibly versatile game as you can design your own quests, so you can in principle use it for anything. For example, I've set up an alternate account for playing Superbetter, with quests and points for such things as filling the monthly pill box or talking to a friend.

But back to its intended purpose. When you log in to Chorewars, you pick an avatar and fill in some questions by which the program decides what class you are and gives you initial stats for strength, constitution, dexterity, charisma, intelligence and wisdom. It then prompts you to set up a group and invite new members. You can play privately, or share your achievements with other players online, getting competitive between teams. But first, it's time to set up your adventures. You can use a pre-made list of adventures that are taken from the most popular ones on the site, or create your own. Each adventure is fully customizable.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Cloud Girlfriend

I've recently come across an interesting new launch called Cloud Girlfriend. Essentially, you sign up and then you get an imaginary girlfriend who exists on Facebook etc. It's not porn or dating, and it's not a bot, but real people.

There's mixed reactions to it on the blogosphere and twitterverse, ranging from the assumption that it's a publicity stunt or a joke, to calling it sexist towards women.

I think it's a great idea though. How many of us sign up for all sorts of feeds and apps that basically send us inane messages on a daily basis? I'm on several mailing lists and I have to admit, I do still get a little thrill when I see my inbox light up with a special offer just for me, or a survey they're sure I'd love to fill out. It makes me feel noticed and needed. It's a little buzz of positive feelings. Plenty of people get messages with today's horoscope or recipe, or even job alerts.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Parents should be told to support gaming, not oppose it.

I recently watched an episode of Jo Frost's extreme parenting advice because I had seen it mentioned as 'proof' that violent video games affect children's behaviour, so I wanted to see that for myself. The research experiment shown was anything but conclusive and hardly scientifically relevant. Some commenters on the Channel 4 site put it rather well:
Alice: I'm most annoyed, however, at the implicit assumptions she makes about gaming. Violence in a game is not 'real violence' but violence on the news is? Sure, it actually happened, but the immediacy is reduced by the fact that these appear to be compiled clips with no underlying story or point of empathy. And what exactly does a lower heart rate mean? What does desensitising mean? That people are less likely to become irrational and over-emotional when viewing ... hammed-up reporting with a clear agenda. Why shouldn't children learn to become more rational when faced with violence? I'm hoping against hope that instead of demonising computer games, this show will suggest that parents monitor and suggest games for their kids.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Games I play that save the world

I've finally started reading Reality is Broken and I learned about some great games that harness the gamer superpowers to make a real difference in the world. The first one is Chore Wars which turns doing the housework into an epic multiplayer adventure. The second is Foldit, where folding proteins is turned into a game. Scientists need to figure out how to fold proteins so they can make medical breakthroughs. Except there are millions of ways they can fold and even supercomputers take forever. If you don't want to play, you can also just lend them your computer's spare time.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Privatising the NHS isn't as bad as it sounds

In the early morning and every now and then in the car, I actually manage to hear some snippets of radio. On it, I've often heard people spouting off about the 'cuts to services' the government has had to implement. (They're not exactly cuts to services anyway, they're cuts to budget, which some councils apply badly - don't get me started). Anyway, everybody seems very concerned at the spectre of using private provision in the NHS. Once I signed a petition to stop parliament from passing an extremely silly law about internet safety and privacy, and now the same organisation keeps contacting me to sign more petitions. Sadly, I haven't agreed with them since, and the same goes for their latest petition to stop the reforms to the NHS. I say bring it on!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

6 PERMAnent side effects of gaming!

As my post Encouraging kids to game is most successful, I thought I'd expand some more on the ideas behind encouraging kids to game. I learned more from Jane McGonigal's DICE talk, that you can watch on G4TV. Don't forget to read the G4 blog post as well, which offers an excellent summary of the talk. There are interesting parallels between gamer superpowers and the things that are essential for people to be happy. So, if nothing else, gaming makes people and children happy. But there are also some side-effects to gaming that have been discovered by credible research and should make us take note.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Addison's crisis - Not dead yet, Jim!

I haven't blogged for a bit as I was on holiday and when I returned, my hard drive mysteriously had crashed. At least we weren't burgled, as that is one of the favourite half-term pastimes in our neighbourhood.

It was quite an eventful holiday as we had occasion to use Kirk's emergency 100ml intramuscular hydrocortisone injection.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Discipline, time-outs and privilege removal

After all those serious academicky blog posts about robots and gaming, I thought it was high time to do another one on useful practical things I could share about parenting. I'll try, similarly to the breastfeeding post, not to just re-tread familiar ground and restate the (generic) advice we all absorb from parenting books, websites, and forums, but fill in some more practical experience and my own views. Being me, I'm still going to wax philosophical as well though.

Discipline is hard to get right. On the one hand, we don't want to be overly controlling and turn our kids into suppressed frightened little drones. On the other hand, leaving them too free or being their 'friend' too much does not do them any favours. Apparently, according to research done by Nancy Darling on lying, children of very strict parents who enforce a lot of rules very strictly, are less likely to lie and misbehave, but they are quietly depressed. But children of lackadaisical parents with few rules and even less enforcement, lie loads, disrespect their parents, and get into trouble. They feel their parents don't really care, so why should they?

Children need boundaries and rules that are enforced. Most parents will agree on that. But opinions will vary wildly on which boundaries, which rules, and how to enforce them. So this is what I do.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Robot helper: features

Sleep little dumpling. I have replaced your mother.
In a recent discussion about the usefulness of robot nannies, I realised that my initial imagined future of social robots had a few flaws. Assuming a robot could be designed to have the emotional complexity and expressiveness to nurture children, that robot would probably be sentient and self-aware to such a degree that they were effectively a person, which raises ethical implications on the right to exploit their labour. Any robot that is still effectively a robot could not be the main carer for children because it wouldn't be human enough to form healthy attachments and be a rolemodel. So, in effect, a full-time robot nanny is out of the question, no matter how advanced and trustworthy the technology becomes. However, social robots can still have a bright future as part-time care providers, housekeepers, or remote avatars.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Stop praising your kids!

Praising our kids isn't actually helping them achieve more or have better self-esteem. In fact it's quite the opposite. Psychologist Carol Dweck's research shows that when we tell our kids they're smart, they become preoccupied with maintaining this reputation and avoid anything they might not be good at right away. They refuse to put in an effort because that proves they're not so smart after all. Their self-esteem actually lowers as soon as they encounter something that is difficult, because they think they've reached the limit of how smart they are.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Robots are your friend

When TED tweeted this video of a TED talk by Cynthia Breazeal about robots I knew this would be something I was going to blog about. Some of the first science fiction I ever read was Asimov and I've always felt particularly attracted to his I, Robot stories. Ever since childhood, I expected flying cars and robots, not to mention space colonization to be a part of my future. I'm still waiting. But I needn't be all that disappointed, because the development of robots is further along than I thought! I might not be able to get a dependable robot nanny for my children, but perhaps there will be one for my grandchildren, or maybe a lovely 24/7 robot carer in my old age.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Things I can tell people about breastfeeding

Breastfeeding, I'm told, is neither straightforward nor easy. It also appears there is very little useful information being communicated to mums-to-be, which means they have to try and get it right when they're sleep-deprived, hormone-ridden, and recovering from physical trauma. I can tell you that that is not the best state to be in when you're trying to learn a new skill! Not to mention all the other new things you have to learn at the same time. No wonder a lot of mums describe breastfeeding as hard, even though it's the most natural thing there is.

How to survive a zombie apocalypse... with Addison's

Like most sci-fi geeks, we have worked out a fairly detailed plan of action in case of zombie apocalypse, or possibly a more conventional sort of apocalypse such as a meteor strike or the collapse of civilisation. Or should I say, we had worked out a good plan. Post-apocalyptic survival becomes a lot more complicated when you have a dependency on life-sustaining medication. Not only do we have to worry about food, water, fuel and ammunition, we need to be sitting on top of a well stocked hospital pharmacy as well.

Any other tips?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

How PEGI isn't helping children game safely

A lot of parents think that as long as they adhere to the PEGI guidelines for games, their children will be 'safe'. This gives a false sense of security as they are handing over their responsibilities as a parent and making a simple yes/no decision based on a arbitrary number. They choose to remain completely ignorant about something that is a big part of their children's lives, and base their judgement entirely on a simple scoring system devised by a large institution. In my opionion, by not engaging with what their children are doing, they are effectively leaving them unattended in a potentially harmful situation.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Monopoly money

The last few days, we've been playing Monopoly Crazy Cash every evening. Bambam begs us to play it (might have something to do with his lucky dice throws). Unlike some other kids games this is one I really enjoyed playing and I'd certainly recommend it.

It says from 5 y/o on the box, but even Eeyore joined in and he's only 2,5 y/o. He loves having a pile of money and streets. Obviously, an adult has to help him collect his rent and count out the amounts, but he is keeping track of turns and shouting either 'one!' or 'two!' no matter what the dice show. Our 5 y/o airhead Pebbles keeps her attention firmly on the board to check for rent, and loves it when she owns 'Princess Gardens' and can put a hotel on it. And 7 y/o Bambam is proud to count out the money in as few as possible notes, as he's learned in school. He thinks carefully about the options on the Chance cards, and about whether he should invest in a hotel or keep his money. Of course, everybody loves the 'cash machine' that spits out notes when you put the bank card in!

We got this game as a birthday present, and I must admit, at first I didn't think it would be much fun.
I've been underwhelmed by kids' board games before. They often seem too simple (boring!), or quite contrived and surprisingly counter-intuitive. By which I mean you find yourself constantly checking the rule book because the board and the piece-movements just don't make sense on their own.

Now maybe it's because I've always loved Monopoly and I'm already familiar with the rules and game-play, but I am so loving this one. We've owned 'grown-up' Monopoly for years and I've just been waiting for the kids to be old enough to play it! This one is an almost perfect alternative. It is simplified just enough and the game play is speeded up, but all the fun and excitement is still there. If you're looking to buy a board game that's fun for young kids and grown-ups too, this is definitely one I'd recommend.

Chart of activities saves the day! (Part two)

As we've recently made some changes to the activity chart, it's time for another post about it. So far it has been working very well and has proved flexible and effective both on school days, weekends, and sick days.

Bambam has been spending a lot more time playing creatively and  with his siblings, which has benefited the whole family. Eeyore is becoming a lot more involved in the games the kids play and has also finally taken up a 'big brother' role towards baby Tigger. Whether all that has anything to do with Bambam taking more of an interest as biggest brother, may be a bit of an overstatement, but I do believe it contributes.

Bambam still concentrates on the more - let's call it - boisterous sorts of play. I dare say when he plays with the Lego there is a lot more demolition than construction involved! Favourite games still involve a lot of running and screaming, but they are more 'themed' now. He will be a knight, monster, Jedi, or wizard. His gaming has become more focused. Rather than just sit for hours playing and playing, he is more aware of the limited time he has, and tends to choose his games more carefully. He goes for the ones that are more challenging and more satisfying.

Regarding the chart specifically, we've made some changes to how we work it, giving Bambam more autonomy. While before, we would choose the number at the top of each type of activities, he has asked to be allowed to set the number himself. He had been feeling stressed out when he felt he did not have enough time to complete all the activities that were numbered. As long as he keeps his day varied and his screen time limited as a result, we are happy to allow him the autonomy to plan his own time. The ultimate goal of all these parenting strategies is to raise a child up to be an autonomous well-adjusted grown-up who can plan his own day and accomplish his own goals. We're very pleased he has suggested these changes himself!

We're also going to allow him to cross out completed activities himself, rather than one of us do it. This is a test of trust. Will he cheat? We'll have to wait and see!

Go to Part one.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Cheaper greener hydrogen car - I want one!

A British company just invented a way to make hydrogen based fuel for cars at a projected 19p/l. Existing cars wouldn't need to be modified in any way, and the fuel could be pumped into them in just the same way as petrol or diesel is now. Hydrogen, I'm told, can be made out of water, and when burned in the car's engine, it emits water vapour again. So as long as we find some (renewable) energy efficient way of splitting water into hydrogen, we can use this cycle as an endlessly renewable fuel-source for all our engines and other machines that currently burn oil.

I've just got a few questions. I don't much believe in human carbon emissions having an appreciable effect on worldwide climate, but if carbon is causing any greenhouse effect, won't clouds of water vapour be even worse? Water vapour is certainly preferable to smoke in busy traffic. But wouldn't it still turn into a big - admittedly clean but still dark and grey - cloud of fog over heavily populated areas? Would all that damp cause problems to the surrounding buildings and infrastructure? I'm thinking for example of conservation isssues in historic buildings made of easily eroding stones.

Other than those practical problems, I am very happy with this news. I've always felt the current 'solutions' to the problem of people burning fossil fuels to drive cars around are ineffective and even counterproductive.

Electrical cars are available, but impractical. They are small and can't drive long distances. So they're fairly useless for most real families. You can't use one to get two children and your luggage to the beach for a weekend break. Charging them up takes too much time as well. Not to mention that it simply shifts the fuel-consumption problem as you charge it with electricity made in primarily coal-fired plants.
A lot of the same problems occur with hybrid cars. There's not a single hybrid people carrier, and on a long haul, you'd need a lot of fuel anyway.

And there's another problem with trying to change the way people drive by changing the way their cars work. It's slow and has the most succes with the wrong people. Electrical and hybrid cars are incredibly expensive. Most families could not possibly afford to upgrade to one, especially not while the car they own right now is so incredibly expensive to run. Raising fuel prices through taxes only reinforces this cycle (it really isn't going to stop people using their cars, obviously!). As long as I'm driving my 'old' car, I spend so much money on it, I'll never save up enough for a new one. Only a few people can afford to buy electrical or hybrid cars, therefore it will remain a luxury article. It may well be that once you have such a car, it 'pays for itself' in saved fuel, but the majority can't afford the initial outlay.

Usually, going green means paying extra, and often it means sacrificing something (comfort, convenience...). That's why it's hard to really do it succesfully. I want to look after my planet, but I also have practical needs to use my car. To really make a change, you've got to produce something that people can switch to easily, and that can be mass-marketed and mass-distributed. If I can simply drive up to the pump in my old car and choose between Diesel at £1.50/l or Hydrogen at £0.19/l, I know what I'll pick!

This is an innovation that makes ecological, economical and social sense! I'm all for it.

I'll give the electric and hybrid cars a miss. I'm not forking out for a totally new type of car until I can have a flying one!

Friday, 28 January 2011

Allowing Encouraging kids to game

Following on from my previous post, I'd like to explain exactly why I don't let my children play videogames... I encourage it!

Most mums have the idea that playing video games is wrong, and a complete waste of time, and they will even lie to other mums about how much time they let their kids play them. Often, other mums will amiably admit (when prompted by me) that games aren't 'all bad' and that surely children need to have some down-time, and that yes, they might even learn something, for example fine motor skills and problem solving. And of course it is socially relevant as it gives them a shared experience to talk about with their peers. However, I can tell they're secretly disapproving and probably suspect that I'm merely rationalizing my lazy parenting.

Jane McGonigal's TED talk is just one of the many examples of real researchers who support that gaming is in fact a great activity for people to engage in. I have previously read in Grand Theft Childhood, how the idea that gaming promotes violence and anti-social behaviour, is based on bad science and biased research. In fact, the authors' preliminary findings show that gaming is an excellent way for (especially boys) to make friends. The violence does not desensitize children and they do not have trouble distinguishing it from real-life violence and harm. And they do learn perseverance and problem solving.

McGonigal takes works out a similar theme in the kind of detail that I really love. I'm going to paraphrase some of her talk, but please do watch the real thing too! She explains how gamers have four superpowers:
1. urgent optimism: they believe that they can do the tasks they are given, and that they can do them right now. In the game world, they are continually entrusted with tasks that are tailored to their 'level' and that are, invariably, achievable.
2. social fabric: in the gaming world, there are literally thousands of people around at any given time, who are happy to work together with you as a team to achieve the lofty goals you've been set.
3. blissful productivity: gamers don't sit around doing nothing. They are constantly running from quest to quest, gathering skill points and achievements.
4. epic meaning: the tasks gamers complete are epic. Generally, they are saving the world. It's very motivating!

If they spend 2 hours a day gaming, they will have clocked more than 10 000 hours of gameplay between the ages of 6 and 21. Once you've done 10 000 hours of anything, it makes you an expert, a virtuoso. Which means we have a whole generation of superhero gamers. Of course, they only have their superpowers in the virtual world, and that is a problem. The real world doesn't have the kind of reward structure and epic meaning... or does it?

Aside from McGonigal's own company Social Chocolate that launches games with the express purpose of solving the real world's problems, there are plenty of real-world examples of how gaming is a perfect way to view the world.
There's diets based on gaming (point scoring, competition, bragging rights...). In my own parenting experience, we have often used the reward structure inherent in gaming, as well as the epic dimensions to encourage the children to do well in the real world.

When Bambam started school, he struggled with learning to read. It seems like a daunting and insurmountable task and every single day, it seemed he was no closer to achieving the goal. In the real world, one might just give up. But if you view it like a game, it's very different! In World of Warcraft, you can acquire a skill, for example metalworking. When you first learn it, you can make a few simple objects. Each time you do it, you earn a skill point. When you've got enough skill points, you level up. It's a gradual process with a goal that is clearly achievable. We started approaching learning to read in this way. Rather than coming home every day not having learned to 'read', Bambam came home having earned 1 skill point by learning one new lettersound. He knew that once he had enough skill points, he would be able to level up from the pink sticker books to the red sticker books. He became blissfully productive, and optimistic about his ability to complete the epic task of learning to read.

This is just one example, but it convinces me that I'm doing the right thing by encouraging my children to game.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world | Video on

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world | Video on

If anyone has any doubt whether they should let their kids play videogames... Jane McGonigal makes the case that we should be making them play more games. Gaming gives gamers four superpowers: urgent optimism, social fabric, blissful productivity, and epic meaning. Exactly the skills we need to save the world. Really.

Star Trek First Look: Star Trek Mr. Potato Heads

Star Trek First Look: Star Trek Mr. Potato Heads
Must have for us trekkies with toddlers!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I think I need to start watching Madmen

Having recently watched the entire Firefly series and the film Serenity on DVD, I, like most of its fans felt sorely disappointed in its untimely demise. There was just so much more that could have been explored. We all wonder about Book's back story. Would any of the budding romances get anywhere? Who are those creepy blue-gloved couples. Please someone tell me there's some fan fiction out there I can read!

And I really resent how they killed half the cast in the film. Any hopes of perhaps the series returning to our screens after a decade's hiatus, like Red Dwarf, are dashed. Although, if we treat Serenity as non-canon, maybe it could still be pulled off. I'm sure the actors would love to return to it, based on their commentary on the DVD extra's.

For now, it seems there is one other option open to me though:

Friday, 21 January 2011

Star Wars violence okay for kids

I've been asked whether it's okay to let little kids watch movies such as Star Wars, because they're quite scary and violent.

Bambam played Lego Star Wars on the Xbox before we watched the Star Wars movies with him. We felt it would give him some more background to the levels he was playing. The good part about that is that he felt fairly 'empowered' watching the scary bits, because he had already 'done' those levels in the game. The violence also seems less when you associate it with cartoon Lego violence. We've done the same with Lego Harry Potter and are now watching the Harry Potter movies. They're quite scary too, actually!

He was surprisingly good at understanding the emotional journey of Anikin into Darth Vader. We, as parents, welcomed the depth of this development compared to kids' shows actually aimed at this age bracket where 'baddies' are just bad for no reason. At least Darth Vader/Anikin is a complex person. (As a movie critic, I'd describe all this differently, but I'm talking child-rearing here). I think it actually helps him deal with the real world, in which nobody thinks or believes that they are the 'baddy'. People do things for complex reasons, including bad things, and Star Wars helped make Bambam aware of that. He often tries to discover what might drive other children to do 'naughty' things, and has also become more critical of his own motives at times.

Watching Star Wars with children has a bunch of other advantages as well. There is a lot of merchandise you can buy which can help in getting kids interested in games or activities they might not otherwise do. For example: we have Star Wars Guess Who and Star Wars Battleships game. I'm pretty sure Bambam wouldn't touch such sedate strategy board games if they weren't so excitingly branded.

Star Wars also has some pretty strong female characters. Padme Amidala can fall a bit flat at times. They tried to write her as a strong independent woman, but she seems overly reliant on the men around her, both politically and emotionally. Now Leia, with her great blaster aim, her snappy comebacks at the amourous Han Solo and the threatening Darth Vader: that's a real strong woman. She's in charge! I've seen Pebbles' princess role play turn a lot more active and empowered since watching Star Wars. Instead of dressing up and waiting in the tower to be rescued, her 'princesses' now run around shooting blasters and ordering robots about. And then there's Ahsoka, who's a female Jedi/Padawan.

Another aspect of Star Wars that is fairly interesting from a parenting point of view are the robot characters. Kirk Jr may have inherited Asperger traits from Kirk, my hubby. He tends to identify with objects more than people. For example, watching Harry Potter, he imagined being the Golden Snitch and allowing Harry to catch him so Griffindor could win. By contrast, Bambam wished to be one of the Quidditch team members who carry a cudgel to hit the ball (and perhaps other players) with. In Star Wars, Kirk Jr identifies with R2D2, which still allows for quite broad imaginative play and interaction with other children. All of which is good.

So, yes, I think watching Star Wars, and playing Star Wars games is a good thing to do with kids. Like anything, you should do it with them and then, if there is any issue with scariness or anything else, you'll be there to spot it, guide and explain.