Feb 7, 2016

Minecraft Part 1: What the hell are you talking about, kids

I thought I was a very tech savvy parent and secretly felt pretty smug about my preparedness for my kids to gradually enter the fray of online life.  Then along came Minecraft.

I'll admit, gaming has been a bit of a black hole for me. What little I know about gaming I have gleaned from 9Gag and Gamergate (which, you know, both make gaming seem super awesome).

I am, however, a technophile and ambitious to know it all. I mean, I switched from an iPhone to a Samsung two years ago, so I'm like, pretty cutting edge.

Now that the kids have an Xbox, I fully intend to give up some Netflix time to learn how to steer the goddamn Need for Speed car down the middle of the highway instead of careening from barrier to barrier and getting stuck in reverse, and I am looking forward to trying a first-person shooter game to see how violent it makes me.

But commanding the Xbox controller is, like, hard. Why are kids immediately so dextrous at this stuff? I cannot get all my fingers plus my brain to work in unison. I cannot get my car or skateboarder to go more than a couple of metres without crashing. This is a good way to immediately feel like your own parents as your kids try and keep the laughter out of their voices while they show you how to use the technology. Karma.

Back to Minecraft...

The kids have long loved Minecraft and spend a borderline unhealthy amount of time glued to their screens building stuff and playing interactive games.  And here's where I (also) got caught napping. I had no idea you could play Minecraft online.

When my kids started having run-ins with online etiquette and trolling, they came to me with complaints and lengthy descriptions of online interactions I could barely understand. And I thought I knew about online interactions! I was a bit shocked and had to have some quick tutorials from my ten year olds on what the hell they were talking about.

Here's the deal: you can join servers run by other people and build stuff in their world, or play battles or racing games where you are playing against, and interacting with, other players. This whole world is subject to a whole lot of arcane rules and etiquette the kids pick up fairly quickly, but is also obviously subject to the whims of the people running it.

There are also the usual dispiriting online spats between friends where someone gives some people access to a game but not others, or kicks one person out for bad behaviour but lets their best friend behave worse, etc. There are days when this seems to be happening all the time and I have to tell the kids to take a break from it and do something else, and sometimes they even listen to me.

The thing with online play is that your kids can be sitting calmly in the lounge room tooling around on their iPod and you can be sitting a metre away, and a whole world of turmoil can be going on where they show no sign and you have no idea.

For me (and I'm trying not to sound smug here, as I know I don't have this solved) the answer is to try and be involved enough to understand what's going on and be interested in the games and the online world so they will talk to me, and we can talk about the problems as they come up.

There are millions of kids playing Minecraft. Most Minecraft players these days are probably under 13, but there are a lot of adults too.  My kids and I have talked a lot about this, what it means and what they need to keep in mind. We've had a couple of ugly moments, but for the most part, it's been fun and educational and the girls have been handing it well.

There are Minecraft glossaries and guides online you can Google if you want to know how redstone is used, or what a creeper or an Enderman is - this one is a good place to start - but they don't have the words my kids and their friends are using when they talk about interactive play.

Here are the Minecraft words I hear all the time and what they mean:

Minecraft online play words and meanings 

Seed - the code that Minecraft uses to generate terrain and content in worlds you create. There are online directories where people have shared good seeds or people pass them on through word of mouth. The reason these are valued is that without a good seed you have no idea where you will "spawn" to start your game: it could be awesome terrain, or it could be "a bland, uninspiring world full of flat grassland and the odd chicken(that sounds familiar as that's what I got the one and only time I tried to play Minecraft on my own)

Server - any Minecraft player can set up a game on a Minecraft public server and others can join if they have the IP address of the server (which is passed around by word of mouth or found in the Minecraft public server directory)

Admin - person who runs the server, gives access to players and polices behaviour

OP - "give someone OP" - full access to all the available commands. The Admin as someone who is already OP gives OP status to other users. If you are given OP, it is generally bad form to give others OP without permission from the Admin.

Donate - Admins will sometimes ask players to donate money to the server, which is fair enough when it's a couple of dollars to help with the cost of an established game, but can be a bit rich if players are asked to donate as soon as they join, or if it's more than a couple of dollars, or if it's in return for getting a ban removed, etc.

PvP (player vs player) - term refers to interactive play with other online players, but my kids and their friends (in which case others they play with online as well) are using it as a noun to mean the server/game hosting the play, e.g. "I was on an awesome pvp yesterday but I updated my iPod and now I've lost it"

Grief (verb), Griefer (noun - person who griefs) - destroying things others have built, generally causing trouble in the game

Lag (verb) - perform moves that cause the game to lag - a major infraction that can get you banned. Eg flying.

Kick - to be "kicked" is to be kicked out. Not as bad as being banned because you can usually get back in, but it is done as a warning, or in a fit of pique

Ban - you can get banned for griefing, lagging, trolling, speaking in all caps, using annoying phrases like "lol" or "yolo" or... all sorts of things really! I will cover that in Minecraft Part 2...

Wallpaper image by dkjjr at Minebook

Jan 3, 2016

Zoo, Brooklyn Nine Nine and other equally great ways to waste time

Golden Age of Television. It's a great time in history, is it not?

There's more good TV than you'll ever watch (Mad Men, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Fargo, Broadchurch, The Killing, Sherlock, The Thick Of It, Homeland, Narcos, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and more)

There's more kind-of-good TV than you'll ever watch (Orange Is The New Black, Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation, The Walking Dead, Supernatural, Doctor Who and more)

There's TV I still haven't watched but which I know is at least kind of good, and likely very good or great (The Fall, Jessica Jones, Master of None, Girls, Transparent, Veep, and more).

There's TV I tried some time ago and have no interest in it so stop talking about it, internet, as if it's as good as the good stuff! (Entourage, The Good Wife - get out).

But, thanks to Netflix (or Stan, or Presto), there is always something at least passably good, and most often actually very good, right at your fingertips. For people my age who grew up on decades of lame to woeful network TV shows, it's amazing how good most of it is, and how much there is.

It's not all "great" television but it is stuff the Golden Age of Television probably makes possible nonetheless, because there's room for every niche as long as everything has high production values and a fast turnaround time.

Here's the stuff I've been enjoying - a mix of good, great and silly:

Better Call Saul
Who didn't love Saul in Breaking Bad?  This is very different but didn't disappoint.  I love him even more now. Plus he's kinda hot. I know!!

The Delivery Man
Really pretty silly. Cop becomes midwife and reverse-sexist shenanigans ensue.  Also has Jenny from Cold Feet (remember Cold Feet?) Mildly funny and easy to watch.

6-episode doco series with melodramatic narration, each episode re-enacting 3 stories of people who survived horrific animal attacks. Includes interviews with the survivors, and representations of the animal bites using x-ray-style graphics of teeth and skeletons, complete with blood and bone crunching noises. Shamefully awesome.

Finally! Season 2!! I love this show. I love it more than Jake obviously loves Amy. Which is a lot.

Some movies:

The Awakening, Case 39, Let The Right One In
Good supernatural horror

Passengers, Unknown, Chloe
Ridiculous but enjoyable psychological suspense/thrillers. 

Just saw this and loved it. Awesome (I mean I was actually awed) movie. Not really what I expected and left me thinking (unlike most of the other things on this list...)

And back to TV: my current show of choice:

Oh this is so good. It has an awesome premise (the world's animals have had enough, and are en masse turning on people), but is not great in execution.  It could have been a lot better - or maybe the story is just a bit too silly.  It is fun to watch though. It has a predictably evil global corporation, some beautiful settings, beautiful animals, and it has Billy Burke (the only hot man in the Twilight movies)

It also has Bess Armstrong - remember her?? I think I last saw her in Jaws 3D. But it came back to me, watching her scenes, that she was never a very good actor.  In fact, once I saw her name on the opening credits and started looking for her, that was how I recognised her.

Zoo also has some silly dialogue, cliched characters, leaps of flawed logic and what I believe is probably very inaccurate science (but, you know, I could be wrong). The scenes with animals are also a little weird, because you don't actually see any animal attacks, and the animals are obviously just standing or running as ordered. (The scene with wolves attacking a prison was a scary idea, but looked a bit too much like a group of dogs loping happily towards their off-screen trainer).

There is a thread on Reddit with a link to this review on YouTube which pretty neatly skewers this show. But whatever, it's silly schlocky fun and I'm enjoying it.

My favourite piece of dialogue so far:
"I don't know which was worse, being attacked by lions, or finding out my sister was sleeping with my fiance."

And re-reading this, I think I may be spending too much time watching TV.    

Nov 2, 2015

Halloween keen

As I've mentioned before, I love Halloween.

My formative trick or treating experiences in Los Angeles as a child were fantastic, and the whole thing was just so much fun. So I have been gung ho ever since it looked as if Halloween might take off here.

It hasn't. It probably won't. Too many people don't like it. It's a bit of a shame, as it's such easy, harmless fun.

From a good strong start three years ago, Halloween has sputtered out a bit in our suburb; last night I got three trick or treaters and one of those groups was a kid from two streets away who knows I do Halloween and probably headed straight here when she left her house.

As always, I massively over-catered with a deep casserole ("cauldron") and a fruit bowl full of lollies from which our kids and their friends ended up doing massively well.

The kids and I had decorated the house and attached balloons and skulls to the fence and lamppost to attract the roaming hoardes... to little avail. 

At one point I saw some kids hesitate at the end of our street, and I almost opened the door and called out to them. Then I remembered that would be weird.

However, always hopeful, I manned our front door and dipped only occasionally (i.e., quite often) into my overflowing cauldron to munch on jelly eyeballs and Milky Ways.

My kids were originally meant to meet at a friend's place for trick or treating but the parents had to cancel, so everyone met at our place instead.  While I tried not to eat all the good lollies the other three mums walked the streets with our gang of zombies, witches, skeletons, gypsies, grim reaper/Scream ghost and Batgirl.

The kids had a great time roaming the streets and knocking on doors. Most of those doors didn't open, but those that did were (as always) friendly and most had candy or treats.

Once plastic buckets were full, they all came back to our house. After a big bowl of potato wedges and cold drinks the kids played outside and we mums all sat down with a glass of wine. It was a fantastic evening and if I end up hosting a Halloween party at my place every year, I will be very satisfied.

Or... maybe I will set up a light show, some dry ice and a Vincent Price soundtrack to attract more trick or treaters?

What - too much?

Aug 12, 2015

Best Twitter Accounts (at the moment)

I know not everyone likes Twitter, and lately I don't much like it either. It's all a bit exhausting. But there is still plenty of gold in Twitter. These are the accounts that are currently making me smile.

We Want Plates (@WeWantPlates)

Showcasing the worst of the restaurant craze for serving food and drink in silly things.
The photos make me LOL.

ManWhoHasItAll (@manwhohasitall)

So, so good. When you've spent a few years wrangling parenting and work AND dealing with the endless scream-worthy, useless, unfair and impossible "advice" in women's lifestyle articles, welcome to your soulmate, ManWhoHasItAll.  Turning all the stupid "work-life balance" advice for women around as if it were written for men:

I could keep going. I have retweeted so many of these I've virtually stolen the account.

Spineless Wonders (@SpinelessWonder)

I love short stories, in particular of the speculative fiction type. And I love flash fiction - when it's good (which it often is not). All last month under the hashtag #MicroLitMonth, this account put up some really great short short fiction.

Like this one

The Conversation (@ConversationEDU)

Source of excellent articles which look at issues and ideas slightly differently, with the benefit of academic insight. The articles are a good length, striking just the right balance between Buzzfeed and Longform, and they publish them all under a Creative Commons license. Nice work, The Conversation.

God (@TheTweetOfGod)

The God we really need.

Daily Dose of Puppies (@TheDailyPuppy)

Cynical exploitation of internet-cute? Sure. But ADORABLE.

And my favourite tweet today:

Aug 7, 2015

Fixing MP Entitlements

The politicians are saying the problem is the rules are too opaque, and they need to be made clearer. I guess they need rules where they are not tempted to push the definitions of what is allowed to the absolute limit of shameless logic-twisting, intention-denying interpretation, just because everyone else in the parliament is doing it too.

In fact all this really needs is leadership: one decent PM who will say, at the beginning of his or her term in office, "Look, let's stop all this nonsense and all agree to just claim the bare minimum, and let me set up someone whose task it will be to check what you're claiming and disallow anything that would make a reasonable person go, 'Well, that's not reeeeally what the designers of this entitlement had in mind...' "

But since we don't have that, sure, I guess we need to tighten the rules and make them "more transparent".  So fine, it's not that hard.  In fact, the existing rules are actually pretty clear, except for spelling out what is an allowable business trip.

But ok, here are my new rules:

Travel and Accommodation:
  • Business Class air travel is fine
  • no charter flights or helicopters unless there is no commercial flight
  • no air miles can be accrued (the same rule some companies have for business travel)
  • you pay for any family traveling with you
  • taxis or hire cars for urban travel but not for travelling between home and your electorate office
  • no travel allowance for party fundraisers or social events
  • if you have a "work meeting" at the same place as a social event, you pay half the travel cost (and travel rules as above still apply)
  • you can't use your accommodation allowance to pay off your mortgage on a Canberra home. Yes you might have bought the home because you have to spend part of the year in Canberra for work, but the fact you are buying it gives you a personal financial advantage (property wealth) so you can't DOUBLE-DIP by claiming an allowance as well. 
  • To achieve the above, change the flat dollar allowance MPs get for accommodation and food while in Canberra to two separate items, being a flat amount for food and a claim for accommodation, which is only paid for booked-and-paid accommodation 
Study Tours:
  • Stop that nonsense
  • Same as the rest of us
Retirement allowances:
  • existing redundancy arrangements for MPs who lose their seat are fine
  • no funded office or driver. Use a home office
  • Scrap the Gold Pass arrangements for free air travel within Australia for retired long-serving MPs - it's encouraging too many of them to stick around for too long. Let's make it 3 free Business Class trips a year for self and spouse, to attend the odd thingy. 


I also think it's a good idea as someone has suggested, to rename them from 'entitlements' to 'expenses' or 'claims'. If you are told something is an 'entitlement', you are apt to claim it. Just as many taxpayers routinely put in work expense claims for the couple of hundred dollars' stationery claims you are allowed to make without receipts - and can I just add, that I also think this is appalling. Don't do it, people.

There has been unhappiness about MP entitlements before, but this time it's the current government's own harsh budget and rhetoric ("The age of entitlement is over!" - oh, I love it) combined with Hockey's out-of-touch announcements ("poor people don't drive far", "people should get a good job paying good money") combined with the usual dubious expense claims by all of them, that is bringing this to a head.

To finish off: this is the funniest Bronwyn Bishop helicopter meme in my opinion:

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