Thursday, March 29, 2012

Video games review ( or how did it all work out)

In 1972 a video game called Pong was released. It was a simple game with two little white bats and a square ball, all you had to do was get the little square ball past the opposing bat and you got a point. It was simple and very addictive.

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Nowadays people would only play Pong  if it was at a party and everyone was either drunk or trying to win money off each other. Then in 1977 Space Invaders was released and the rest they say is history. The games got better and better and the way you played them got wider.

Which leads us to today. Computer games dominate our children's lives (and adults ! Apparently the average age of a gamer is 35 ) and the range to purchase and play is staggering. How on earth do you determine what's  what ?

A little while back I posted about the video games we had decided on as a family. The time has come some months later to detail what worked and what didn't.

The games were

Lego Star Wars 3                          PC                                Steam                         USD39.95
Minecraft                                        PC                               Minecraft                      E14.95
Plants vs Zombies                            PC                                Steam                          USD9.95
Lego Indiana Jones                     Wii                                EB Games                 AUD39.95

So they have completed all the levels in Lego Star Wars. The youngest one goes back from time to time to play in free play mode and overall it has been a lot of fun to play. The graphics are great and it is quite funny at times. The violence levels are fine as it's all Lego, so it is quite family friendly. After all nothing is quite as funny as watching a little Lego man pop apart in to little Lego pieces after being shot.

Plants vs zombies got a bit repetitive and the challenges were a bit overly simplistic. They enjoyed it for probably about the first 5 weeks and then it hasn't been played since. It wasn't an expensive game so I'm  not too worried. I had a go and lost interest after 5 minutes, mind you I was supposed to be helping clean the house so I was interrupted as well.

Lego Indiana Jones has exactly the same engine as the other Lego games so the game play is very similar. Once they had finished all the levels they started to go back and free play them which seemed to suit them better. We have had issues around battery life of the wii remotes which has lessened the time spent playing. They still enjoy playing every now and then.

Minecraft is another story all together. They are still going strong on this one and it's playability is still going after the final version was released. It has even drawn in the youngest son into it's caverns, open plains and vast treasures to mine. They would play it 24/7 if we let them. They talk about it, they plan it. They make videos about it. The eldest is now coding mods and worlds for other users, so I can't see this one going away any time soon.

I'm very comfortable about all aspects of the the game, there's no violence to speak of (there is griefing, and some zombie like creepers and others that can kill you but its surreal in it's portrayal).

A couple of new games have also somehow crept in ( Curse you - easy to use Steam), Terreria  is a side scrolling game which we have all enjoyed very simple and lots of fun. Team Fortress 2 has also crept in with it's cartoon style shoot em' up game play. The newest is Dungeon Defenders and is so graphics intensive it cause the graphics card to over heat and shut the PC down, much to The Beloved's relief.

Anyway the issue now is how to get them off the damn things because I mean I think by accident I created a substitute babysitter. It's not the same as TV which presents the information in neat little packages that require little or no thought. No these games demand your constant attention and then feed you little rewards along the way to keep you incented to play.

If we don't get the to turn the computer off and go outside or literally drag them out ourselves they would just keep on going.

And going. So now we have instituted a series of times that games can be played for, of course on completion of other everyday functions.

I just have to work out how to give them more chores so I can get on with the serious business of getting my Galaga scores back up........

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The hidden Squirrel in you.

When something breaks nowadays you probably throw it out as it usually can't be fixed ( well at least it can't be fixed for less than what it initially cost you). Or you just shove it in a drawer or cupboard to get to later.
It wasn't always like this, you used to be able to repair things. In fact it was a mark of your ability to be able to be a useful husband / father in the future.

Like a peacock displaying it's feathers to gain a suitable mate, husbands/fathers to be must be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of everyday repair capabilities. This list examines that.

In order to repair things however, you need to build up a store of parts which often means just hanging on to some really broken stuff to strip for parts. It's a fine line because you don't want to keep everything - that's something different- but just enough to be useful.

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Hoarding is a listed medical condition. It is more often listed as Pathological collecting and is best described as the excessive acquisition and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that would seemingly qualify as useless or without value. Compulsive hoarding  is also apparently associated with health risks, impaired functioning, economic burden, and adverse effects on friends and family members. I would say that's because you have to put all that stuff somewhere. 

When I was a kid I began to learn that my Dad kept a lot of stuff, he never seemed to throw anything away. I'm certainly not saying he is a compulsive hoarder and if I ever wanted to build/fix something he seemed to have a part of the things required.


I did notice a couple of odd things

There seems to be eight  broken washing machines hidden under the house along with the half used cans of paint when he painted the house - 20 years ago.

He has a hobby farm that is liberally bursting at the seams with odds and ends. We once bought a pile of scrap iron and steel at a clearing sales because it had the one piece we needed. Mind you straight after the sale was complete a lovely lady came over and bought a bucket of horse shoes from our pile, for $5.00 which coincidentally was the price we paid for the whole pile !

Dad was for ever reusing stuff such as re-straightening nails to use again, picking up stuff from the hard rubbish collection in the middle of the night (which drives Mum nuts). My current lawnmower was on a hard rubbish pile and was "saved", refurbished and now works like a charm - if taking 30 minutes to start and making the same amount of noise as a Formula One car and blowing smoke constantly is counted.

When we were pulling down our old house he kept the whole lot to re-use the timber somewhere else. He still has some of it.

I assumed that I was fine and that I would not wake up one day with washing machines under the house. However when The Wife to be  first moved in I had 100's of drink coasters I had collected, which was a worry as I don't remember why I was doing that or when I had collected them.

I also started picking up discarded things from hard rubbish piles that I had decided could be fixed. Now I actively stop myself. It just got too hard to hide it all from the Beloved.

And don't think you're all perfect , we've all got "that drawer" or cupboard that is full of everything and everything, that we're always going to "clean up one of these days". It has all the things we have hoarded collected over the years and it's usually in the kitchen or in our case also under the stairs.

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You know why you haven't gotten to it yet -because some times it's just to hard to decide what should stay and what should go.

So now when I approach something that is going to have to go , I silently say to myself  "What would Dad keep?"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Matching Kids to sports

When I was a little kid I watched my sister learn to swim. I decided I could do that and away we both went. Turns out we were both pretty good at it and we joined a club and I ended up "retired' at about 19 years of age and went in to the work force never to  look back. The decision wasn't too difficult, when I was swimming there wasn't a lot any of money in it, so once I discovered you could work and get paid - I was off.

I'm a fairly chatty bloke so swimming may not have been a great choice for me, as you spend 2 hours a day twice a day, 6 days a week with most of your face and body under water and this does not lend itself to chatting. So I would have to start the conversation at each end when everybody was assembled and then carry it on though the session at each rest period. Which is no mean feat as you have to remember where you are in the conversation and the session you are supposed to be focused on.

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Actually now that I think about it if I had focused as much on the training as I did the chatting, I probably would have gone even faster and got yelled at a lot less by the coach.

So this leads me to my point ( bear with me I'll get there)

I now have two bundles of joy of my own and they are starting to reach the age where they are getting serious about sport. I want them to enjoy the experience and I certainly want them to get a sense of being part of a  team ( you don't get that in swimming ) and the responsibility that brings.

So here I am looking at each minion and trying to match them with a sport (which will also be parent friendly) and that ticks all the boxes above.

Ands it's hard not to want / expect that every time they run on to the arena that they will be the next big super star and be whisked way to a life of luxury and security (with me as their manager).

So lets have a look at the mainstream sports on offer now days for boys -

Aussie Rules Football - Not a sport for the faint hearted parent. If seeing little Bobby get his head driven into the ground and him return covered in mud and grass stains gives you shivers then try something else. Even with the extra rules to protect the little ones, it's still injury prone. Mind you nothing is quite as funny as watching little kids running up and down those huge grounds chasing an oval shaped ball that just won't bounce the way they want it to. It's kinda like herding cats.

Basketball - This gets a big tick from me, 2 halves of 18 minutes, it's indoors. Will not suit children who don't like running. Basketball is a very intense sport and I actually really enjoy watching it. The boys seem to get satisfaction from everybody on the team getting the chance to get scores on the board. I will however issue a caution, if your beloved lacks spatial awareness, carry a lot of tissues for the inevitable blood noses.

Soccer - Less heads being driven in to the ground than football.  Still plenty of grass stains and mud to keep the kids smiling and the washing machines on over drive. Does require attendance when raining so can be a little trying.

Cricket - This involves sitting around waiting, then you get to stand around waiting. As parents you sit around waiting on the sidelines. I'd pack a lot of snacks and wine coffee. Great for kids who never get bored and don't mind nothing exciting happening. Ever.

I know there's heaps more but only so much space.

So it sounds simple I hear you say, we pick a sport and show up ? As Admiral Akbar always says - "It's a trap !"

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After you have paid your not un-substantial joining fee and uniform fee, each week you will be given a task to assist with on game day. The task could be something simple like cutting up the oranges or buying the snakes for the end of the game. It could however be umpiring or even worse - scoring.

Woe behold if you get scoring and you make a mistake. Before you will get a chance to correct it hordes of parents will point out your error and hopefully for you its not a close game or it can get really awkward. Some of these parents take U9 sports very, very seriously.

So as Saturday rolls around and we fire up the family Taxi to get everybody to the various events, I thank my lucky stars that neither of them are interested in synchronized swimming.....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Don't try this at home - lessons from some one who knows

Apparently there are eight  principles of learning as set down by Educational Psychologists and Pedagogues, these are (in no set order) :
readiness, exercise, effect, primacy, recency, intensity, freedom and requirement.

As a side note here something I didn't know Pedagogy is the study of being a teacher or the process of teaching. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction. 

But I digress.

I sit quietly as the tears stream down my cheeks and I reflect on my inability to learn. How did it happen again ?I fit all of the eight principles so what went wrong ? How did I get here yet again ? I replay the steps in my mind  and realise that these are amateur mistakes that just shouldn't be made.

The first time was back when I was trying to impress my wife to be whilst we were at our favourite restaurant for a nice noodle soup and conversation not only did I manage to get chili in my eyes but I followed it up with a good dose of lemon juice. My eyes puffed up, went red and I looked like Twilight saga fan who has just been told Taylor Lautner is now married.
So the entire time was spent trying to clean out my eye and suffice to say not much conversation other than "Are you sure you're OK ?" went on.

At least this time it was just onion. And I had taken precautions - I had washed the onions under running water which supposedly stops the vapours that cause you to cry be released. But once again like before I had taken my finger - all coated and primed and jabbed it in my eye to relive a perceived itch.

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As I wait and gently wash my eye with cool water I cast my mind back to all the other "Don't do this" moments in my life.

- Get on a rowing machine after a hot dog and a beer at "O" week at University, turns out your vomit reflex is really close to the diaphragm, so after exertion the body just empties itself. I didn't make the rowing team either......

- Pull apart secateurs while holding them in front of your face. Seems they have a few safety precautions built and as I rotated them and kept up my attempts to pull them apart one half neatly sprung off and pierced my lip and embedded itself into my gum. So off to hospital we went. My wife still claims to this day I'll do anything to get out of gardening.

- Pull mussels off the pier with bare hands. It seems that even if you grab them gently they are designed to defend them selves by being razor sharp all the way around. The tiny yet prolific cuts they leave behind really only become apparent the next day. When you can't clench a fist any more or hold your cutlery......

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- Attempt to saw rubber water pipes with a hacksaw when they apparently have steel wire re-enforcing inside them. This will cause the hacksaw to catch and then bounce out and come down on your finger you were using to guide the blade and sever a good chunk of you finger nail and slice into the finger. The sheer shock of this one (surprise and then searing pain) was enough to convince me to use an angle grinder on everything for about a month afterwards.

- If you take hot trays out of the oven with a wet cloth it turns out the heat from the tray turns the water in to steam vapour which will leave some marks behind. It just goes to show that rushing in a kitchen isn't a good strategy.
For all of you who know that I cook regularly - contain your howls of dismay, this one is not  recent experience. I use it to illustrate a point.

My eye feels a little better and my nose seems to have stopped resembling Victoria Falls, so I guess I'm good to go. Until I have another learning experience of course.

I wonder which of the eight principles I'm at right now ?