Tuesday, 21 October 2014

5 million and counting

The page counter to the right recently slipped over 5m. That's five million page views for this little blog and I'd like to thank everyone who's read the odd post or even those who subscribe to the RSS feed. I did a post analysing the whats wheres and so on when I hit 3 million a while ago. Nothings really changed in terms of that sort of stuff, so if you want to see a bit of the statistical side of things, you can have a look here.

As a thank you, I'd like to gift you with the following photo:

You can use your own lurid imagination to ponder on exactly how far down the nakedness goes and how exactly I'm holding the camera.

Thank you all!

Gaming, gaming, gaming, and a bit more gaming

Our 7 year old is a LEGO fanatic. He is also a Minecraft addict. The two in my mind are intrinsically linked because although I've not really played Minecraft myself, as far as I can see it's sort of a LEGO City building kit on computer/tablets/console. Some of the worlds he's built are astonishingly complex and go on forever and ever, or at least it seems that way when I'm having a guided tour of them at any rate. Not that these worlds are very detailed and well thought our mind you. I think the fiver I spent on Minecraft Pocket Edition on Android was possibly the best five pounds I've ever spent in terms of value for money (although the money I spent on Football Manager 2013, also on Android, gives it a close run for it's money as I head into the 2030 season with a team almost entirely made up of players called Costa).

Over the last year or so as he's got a bit older and developed the hand to eye coordination for video gaming, he's developed a proper interest in games. Fortunately the world of gaming is quite different to when I was little. When I was his age a chap called Sir Clive Sinclair decided it would be a jolly good idea to unleash the ZX Spectrum on the world. The machine had a membrane keyboard that felt like the cold dead skin of a corpse and had a meagre 16k of memory that could be filled by loading stuff up from a tape cassette. To put this into perspective, a MS Word file with 500 words of unformatted text is about the same size as a Spectrum game. To get round this relatively minuscule amount of storage, Spectrum games were usually short but rock hard. Jumps had to be pixel perfect or you'd die. Baddies had to be avoided or you'd die. Sometimes you'd just die because the game was unfair. This made the 7 year old me quite sad at times. Today though with some games running to 50GB (or roughly 3.3m times larger than a Spectrum game), games can afford to be easy but long. If they're too hard, they'll alienate their audience after all. With a lot of the games the boy plays, he gets bored of the game before he gets stuck on it and even if he gets stuck, I'm usually on hand to help anyway.

The vast majority of the games he likes to play are Nintendo based, not because their consoles (Wii U and 3DS/2DS) have the monopoly when it comes to family friendly games- we have Skylanders, LEGO Harry Potter and a load of others on the Xbox 360 for example- but with the big chunky gamepad and kid friendly home screen, the Wii U and it's games definitely have a place in the heart of the boy.

A lot of people look to limit "screen time" as though it's all the same; TV, tablet, consoles, and so on. I think on it a little differently because I see gaming as an active experience that builds such skills as coordination, problem solving, patience and concentration. At it's best some TV can cover a few of those attributes but all to often it's simply switched on as something to veg out in front of and isn't very positive to my mind.

This Christmas is the first Christmas where any of the kids have asked for a video game on their Christmas list. The boy has asked for Super Smash Bros and Luigi's Mansion 2 on the 3DS. Super Smash Bros is a 12 certificate for reasons I'm not entirely sure about- from playing it fairly extensively at a couple of Nintendo events it appears to be a comic book beat 'em up with about as much root in the real world as an episode of Power Rangers. I shall have to ponder the suitability on that but Luigi's Mansion 2 looks and plays brilliantly...

I have a sneaking suspicion that Fifi will be following in the footsteps of her older brother and there is no doubt in my mind that Ned will want to be a serious gamer sooner rather than later too. I fear for poor old wifey's sanity when they're all at it, bickering over who gets to play what when...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination at the British Library, with Kids!!!

On our way back from a rather nice trip to play a lot of new Nintendo 3DS games at an event put on by Nintendo, we decided to pop into the British Library and see their latest exhibition.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs until mid January and features a couple of hundred items linked into the Gothic movement. The exhibition is ticketed but children are free and wifey got in free courtesy of her Museum Association membership. It cost me a tenner.

Before we went in, we did ask at the ticket desk whether the exhibition was suitable for children. We we told their was nothing too gory or scary and with perhaps the exception of the poster for Hellraiser and a clip from a 70's zombie movie, I'd go along with that. None of our kids, aged from 2 through to 7 had any nightmares last night as a result of seeing it at any rate.

The exhibition runs chronologically, starting with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto from the 1760's, up to the Twilight novels. Obviously as the exhibition is at the British Library, there is a heavy focus on the literary aspect of the Gothic tradition but there are also several film clips, and quite a section on film posters. In terms of film clips, there is something from Bride of Frankenstein, The Wicker-man, and a couple of others. Nothing too graphic though...

It was interesting to see the number of vampire novels that were written before Dracula, particularly Varney the Vampire. In fact there were several Gothic classics that I now want to dig out. Interestingly a lot of what we now consider Gothic novels were actually marketed as romantic encounters at the time.

There are tons of fascinating items on display, ranging from Penny Dreadful covers with Springheeled Jack (dating from 1904 and looking very much like an inspiration for Batman), to my personal favourite, a letter written to the police by Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately there is an understandable ban on photography given the delicacy of some of the paper based object. Further though, one of two of the items are so dimly displayed you can't actually see them. In these instances it would have perhaps been better to have had a reproduction alongside that visitors could actually see.

It's a wonderful exhibition though, not suffering from the problem that a lot of the museum "blockbusters" have; a certain degree of dumbing down, and I shall probably be making a return visit before it shuts.

In terms of suitability for kids, there is relatively little to scare them excessively aside from what I've previously mentioned. There are large parts of the exhibition that probably won't engage them though. Specifically a lot of the historic books, accompanied by quite densely packed text panels. However a lot of the objects are wonderful in their ghoulishness, like the skeleton clock, the Were-Rabbit from Wallace & Gromit Curse of the Were-Rabbit or the Alexander McQueen dress. Some of the illustrations from early editions of some of the Gothic classics were really interesting too, showing the evolution of Frankenstein's Monster into the flat headed iconic figure we all know from the 1930's Universal movie. The exhibition space at the British Library is well used but it can bottle neck at the entrance, so it might be best to skip past that and see it again before exiting (there is timed entry so it can be busy on the hour). Our kids had fun picking their favourite objects and spotting the pictures from the free guide leaflet. Ned was particularly pleased he found the Yellow Book. The stairs (a small flight at the beginning and a much larger flight at the end) make it unsuitable for pushchairs but you can chain those up in the locker room (with your personal belongings in a locker) if you want to walk around carrying a toddler.

I will leave you with the wonderfully moody trailer for the exhibition, which is a work of art in itself:

Thursday, 16 October 2014

T-minus not very many days until............Christmas

The shops have already got the advent calendars up to buy, we've had the Playmobil versions in the post and it's now dark when I get up in the morning. The last one in that list is the telling one, since you can't really determine what the time of year is from what is on display in the shops (back to school started before our kids school had broken up, Christmas stuff is on sale before Halloween, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria...)

Normally we have Christmas pretty well sorted in terms of the pressies by the time November hoves into view. This year I feel somewhat on the backfoot. We've only got as far as setting up a Google Documents spreadsheet which we've shared around- people along the top, with gift requests underneath their name, black for "would like", red for "have acquired". So far the boy is top of the list for "acquired" and also "would like". No surprise there but he's going to be disappointed because he's adamant he wants a foot spa for Christmas and he's got no chance whatsoever there as I've not even added it to his column.

The boy is relatively easy to buy presents for anyway; he loves LEGO, Playmobil, and anything vaguely video game or Doctor Who related. Fifi and Ned are much harder. Fifi doesn't have the patience for LEGO and has never really played with action figures or playsets. She seems to want stuff that I think of as Christmas Day Crap- battery operated remote control ponies/puppies/cats that get played with loads on Christmas Day and are then never seen again afterwards. Ned is our only child who loves playing with action sets like Scooby-Doo or Octonauts but instinctively he just wants to play with whatever the bigger kids are playing with at any given moment. I'm hopeless to buy for, so consider this a very public apology for anyone considering getting me a gift. It's probably why I always end up with a pack of vests or something.

Christmas is of course not just about presents (try telling that to small children though) and we do take the kids to the Christingle service at the very least. Moreover we dig out all the Christmas books to read as bed time story. It doesn't help that the boy is secretly convinced Jesus is a zombie (he did come back from the dead after all) but we do try to emphasise this aspect as to my mind there is little point celebrating a holiday that you don't discuss, let alone believe in.

For us Christmas is also a family time- less so since my little brother went silent on us at the start of last year- and this year should be better than normal as I've managed to be so miserly with my annual leave that I've managed to take Christmas Eve until 2nd January off work. We'll see both sets of grandparents immediately around Christmas, and nieces and nephews as well. We will also get to spend some time together as a family without loads of outside pressures, which will be wonderful.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

RIP the 'tache

It is no more. It is deceased, it is an ex-'tache and no one shall mourn it. I'd had the moustache for the majority of the summer, blighting our holiday photos and the like but after my star turn as The Bandit from Smokey & The Bandit at my firms fancy dress party last Thursday, I shaved it off. Everyone is delighted. Me? My top lip is a bit chilly...
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