Teething kids

It’s funny how a child’s personality can completely change when they’re teething. It’s not just that they’re more prone to biting you (though they are), but their normal happy selves become less co-operative, they’re more prone to throwing toys, food, and themselves around, and there is a bunch more screaming and banging: at church, and when other people in the house are sleeping…

Looking forward to your molars coming in, Youngest.

And So To Bed

Not so much a review as a little look, there’s a video series that I became acquainted with, when my children were given the DVD. The show is called “And So To Bed…“, a children’s series that attempts to give you a bedtime routine to help get your kids to bed and to sleep.

Starting with the not-so-positive side, the DVD didn’t work, and the Contact Us button on their website didn’t work either, so I can’t get the issue corrected.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The videos are available to watch through their site (linked above). Well, that’s the intent at least, 3 of the 4 flash up an error from YouTube, and you have to click through and watch them on the YouTube site. As there didn’t seem to be much on the DVDs that’s not just in those 4 YouTube videos, so I watched some with the kids on YouTube, and downloaded them all just in case.

The present was for the most part intended for Youngest, with Oldest and Middlest getting a bit of overlap from watching him.

I think the shows are the biggest hit with Middlest, so far, though Oldest does like them, too (and sometimes asks if I know the songs, if I’m singing along).

It can be tricky to analyse when Youngest likes something for himself, and when he’s more into it because the other kids are enjoying it. For example, I’ve been watching the old Thunderbirds TV show with all the kids, and Youngest sits through that. It could be because Oldest really likes it. While Oldest and Middlest were occupied the other day, I watched 3 episodes of the new Thunderbirds Are Go! show with Youngest, and he was less interested, needing distracted with toys, or wanting to go upstairs, or to the laundry room, or to have his nappy changed… He was running tired, though, so slept through most of the third episode.

So I watched about one-and-a-half episodes of And So To Bed with Youngest this evening, he seemed to be getting into the relaxing, but the Story Time segment wasn’t his thing, so even when I offered to skip it in the second episode, i got there a bit too late, and he ran away to play with his cars.

One thing I noticed, the theme tune introduces you to a few puppet characters, so far (I guess we’ve watched three of the four episodes, now) only one of them seems to be of any significance. . Moo Cow is in most of the segments, and is talked to, and the others show up from time to time, but not mentioned, or talked to, just present. That seemed curious, but not really a black mark against it or anything.

So, it seems to have a thumbs-up from the kids, and overall a thumbs-up from me, too (and I like Story Time with Grandpa Simon, even if Youngest isn’t into it yet). Also, I got Middlest to sleep with it, one night. Look forward to seeing more output from this outfit.

If your kids need a gradually-calming distraction to help them settle, it’s worth checking out.

Link to first episode on YouTube

A New Portal Game

You wait ages for a new Portal game, and two come along at once.

It’s not that long ago that the trailers for Lego Dimensions surfaced, the game containing one Portal level, and another level available in an add-on pack.

Today, I found out about an upcoming Portal board game, which was shown off to people at GenCon.

Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game is a game for 2-4 players. There are 18 hex-ish tiles (hex, but join together like a jigsaw), which are initially arranged in a 6×3 pattern. Each player controls a team of Test Subjects, who are trying to acquire Cake. The test chambers on the Old edge are gradually recycled to the New edge, causing potential loss of Test Subjects and Cake. The idea is to end the game as the team with the most Cake on the board. The game ends either when one team loses all their Test Subjects, or all the pieces of one team’s cake goes in the incinerator.

Characters, and bits of Aperture equipment, can mess with the rules, or otherwise mess with things (Turrets will kill all Test Subjects in the same room, for example). I think the characters in particular could do most to enhance replay value.

Rules are available on the Cryptozoic site (click “Learn To Play”), and the BoardGameGeek site currently lists 5 videos about the game (the section just after Images is Videos).

Here’s one to get you started:

Sounds interesting enough that I’d like to give it a try. For Science.

Best Song On The Album: The Simpsons Sing The Blues

How often do you listen to an album, and the best song on the album isn’t one of the singles released from that album?

I find this more common than all the good songs being the singles, though I can think of examples of that, as well. Still rarer is when the best song on the album is released as a single, but a single you never see in the shops, and you only find out it was released as one when you browse books that list each week’s Top 100 from decades ago til relatively recently, or you look online for discographies and you notice it, “hey, I never knew that was a single”, or you notice the music video on a music video DVD (or the old standby, YouTube).

Actually, one time, I knew a song was going to be released as a single, and never saw it in stores.

Anyway, abandoning this massive tangent to return to the point, as the end of Thursday approaches, it seemed that Throwback Thursday (it’s a thing I’ve noticed on Facebook the last few months) might be a good time to introduce what could become a good series (finding tracks could occasionally be a problem).

What could be more ’90s than the album The Simpsons Sing The Blues? (Well, OK, that Friends Introduce Windows 95 VHS, but apart from that…)

Some of the album approaches actually being the Blues, the rest of the instrumentation being … well, ’90s (you’ll see what I mean in a minute).

Do The Bartman was the big single from the album, incidentally also the least thematic song on the album.

Homer singing Born Under A Bad Sign, and the Moanin’ Lisa Blues, are the most bluesy songs on the album.

Bart’s Deep Deep Trouble is very catchy.

But the Best Song On The Album title really needs to go to Mr Burns and Smithers. Sometimes people are hard work. “I shouldn’t let it plague me, I shouldn’t blow a fuse, but…”

Geoff Lawton

Anybody who’s interested in growing plants of any kind should be interested in Geoff Lawton.

Modern agriculture has a lot of problems: monocropping which attracts lots of pests, various sprays which kill the bacterial and fungal life in the soil, pollinating insects and so on.

Weeds are often pioneering species to help rehabilitate the soil, and so we try to kill those, too, leaving commercial products which aren’t as nutritious as they used to be, and dusty soil, which blows away with the wind, with ploughing, and washes away with rain.

I came across Geoff Lawton through The Survival Podcast, which I started listening to before its 50th episode (I don’t remember how I came across it, though). Jack, TSP’s host, came across Lawton’s Greening The Desert video on YouTube, and has since developed a friendship.

Geoff’s site now has a stack of videos, which teach how to create abundant food systems, in your back yard, or on any other property you happen to have access to.

He’ll show you how to put different kinds of plants together for their mutual benefit, techniques to build soil, to keep water on your land longer or to get it to where you want it, so many techniques and concepts that will scale to different sizes, he’ll show you many places where it’s all been put into practice.

You have to enter your email to get a password to access all the content, but he doesn’t spam you (he’ll let you know when a new video’s up). The content’s worth that extra step.

Some of the videos are kind of marketed towards those who are worried about “the coming collapse” – whether that be the unsustainable nature of modern agriculture revealing itself to be a Big Problem, the ongoing financial turmoils in the world manifesting as a sudden collapse, that sort of thing. If you’re not in that target demographic, don’t let that put you off, it’s just a bit of polish on top of information you’ll find much more valuable.

do your bit to enrich the world. The more we do, the less we’ll need to pillage it.

Experiments In Blu-Ray

A while ago, the DVD drive in my computer died, so I bought a Blu-Ray drive to replace it. We have a few Blu-Ray discs, in those combo packs that include both DVD and Blu-Ray.

Out of the somewhere-around-10 discs we have, last time I tried, I could only get one working in VLC (Kung-Fu Panda, the oldest title we had). And that’s with going round the internet, trying things people suggested.

The problem is, there’s so much paranoia at the movie companies that they insist on so much encryption and DRM, that it’s easier to rip the disc and watch the file (essentially pirate the disc) than it is to watch your legitimate disc on your legitimate drive.

I rather think these companies are shooting themselves in the foot, doing more to encourage pirating than to discourage it.

Having heard that saga, my parents offered to buy the family a Blu-Ray player (stand-alone box). I helped them pick one, but it didn’t seem entirely straightforward to link it with the system we have. The projector doesn’t have HDMI in and the sound system only has analog stereo in, the player has HDMI out and coaxial digital audio.

Did research at the time, found gadgets on Amazon that convert HDMI to VGA, so we got one of those. Haven’t tried it yet.

In the audio department, my past research was looking more at amps and new sound systems. Today I looked into digital-to-analog converters. Here’s what I found (just about exclusively from Amazon reviews):

For this type of job, there are two kinds of gadgets: converters, and decoders.

Converters only work when your device can be made to output in PCM or LPCM (I read what they were, I don’t remember now. Doesn’t really matter, check your device’s manual).

If you’re stuck with a device that will only output in something like Dolby Digital, you need a decoder. Decoders also seem to have a bit of an issue with lag: takes a bit of time to process the audio, so lips moving on screen are ahead of sound coming through speakers.

Fortunately, we only needed a converter.

Most had overall positive reviews, but it’s always worth looking at the negative reviews.

I looked at the one-star reviews: there were a lot of plain “it didn’t work!”-type reviews, that could easily be attributable to not knowing about the PCM thing. Then there were a few “it worked, then it didn’t”-type reviews, and you can find reviews like that for just about everything. There were also some “it says digital to analog, but it means analog to digital”, on a couple of similar products, which seemed to contradict the positive reviews of people it worked for, who are trying to do the same thing as me.

And then there were some weird reports on the type of power connector that came with one of the products: “came with a non-American plug!” “came with an American plug!” “came with some weird USB thing!”

In the end, you just have to give something a go, though, don’t you?

We’ll see how it goes.

Old Computer Magazines

The Internet Archive has a section on old computer magazines, which might interest some people I know.

Personally, I’m happy to be able to browse all the issues of Commodore Format, most of which I have stashed in the garage, rather the worse for wear after years of use (and not-use, and ab-use).

But I have friends who have (or had) Amigas, ZX Spectrums, Amstrad CPCs, and I know people who talk about TRS 80s and Atari STs. There are old PC magazines listed.

I smile when I think about the tongue-in-cheek style of British computer magazines of the early ’90s. And I recall that a lot of the staff of Commodore Format came from, or went onto, other computing magazines.

Waiting ten minutes for a program to load, or typing in programs from a magazine, letters pages hosted by unembodied brains, one wonders what future generations will make of it all.

Be a hell of a history lesson, though.

Review: Dragon Sun

In general, I’m not into tie-in novels because quality can be an issue. Also, there’s often issues with whether or not the books Really Happened.

Take, for example, Star Trek. There was a novel series, Day Of Honor, with a TOS book, a TNG book, a DS9 book and a Voyager book. I got the TNG book free with a magazine. I think I’ve read it twice, and it never quite succeeded in being interesting. I read another TNG book many years ago, looking it up I think it was Intellivore, and that wasn’t very interesting, either. On the other hand, I read a DS9 graphic novel, and some of a novelisation of the DS9 pilot, and I recall enjoying those. I heard a TOS audiobook, Envoy, that I rather enjoyed.

Good, bad, or ugly, however, none of these books are considered canon, so there seems to be little point in them.

There were a couple of Voyager novels that were supposed to be canon, and bits of them were written into episodes, Mosaic and Pathways, and as I recall they fell afoul of the same sort of revisionism that happened to the Star Wars Expanded Universe recently: the “oh no, they’re not canon after all” syndrome.

Babylon 5’s tie-in novels were all supposed to be canon, though this too has fluctuated a little, they now “all contain canonical elements”, one has been described as “90% canon”, and so on. There were quality issues here, too: some were good, but I particularly remember “The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name” as being very not good. And surprisingly similar to the later yawn-fest Thirdspace.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has a different approach to canonicity. The books, the graphic novels, and the long-rumoured movie can all be considered canon, even when they’re different or contradict each other, they can all exist on “different levels of the Tower” (though you have to wade through rather a lot of books to find out what that means).

The book that I’m writing about today, but have thus far completely managed to avoid actually talking about, is the second of a tie-in trilogy of books to the computer game Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

Here’s my review of Book 1.

Due to the kind of game it is, each time you play it there are significant differences: one time through, a faction can be wiped out very early, the next time they could stay through to the end. In effect, what’s “canonical” in one play through, is unlikely to be “canonical” in another. There are several ways to win the game, and you can only win in one of the ways in each playthrough, so for that game the others are, strictly speaking, “non-canonical”.

So books set in that universe, then, can just take the many familiar elements of the game, flesh out the inner parts of the world that we don’t get to see much of when we actually play the game, add more characters, perhaps even give more character to the characters we already know, and tell a story using those pieces. Canon, in this sense, doesn’t really matter if the story is good.

In the first book, the author, Michael Ely, managed to maintain an overall status quo: none of the faction leaders were “out of the game”, as it were.

In the second book, Yang and Deirdre are the focus. Lal is somewhat a shell of his former self after the events of Centauri Dawn. Deirdre’s tech is limited, though the Gaians have been working very hard on Centauri ecology, and hybrid farms, and harnessing the power of mindworms. We start to hear the Voice of Planet. Morgan is trying to expand his territory into Gaian territory, with Santiago backing him up. Yang has been isolated on another continent, and is looking to introduce himself to the other factions from a position of strength, to become a full member of the Planetary Council.

Yang is also dealing with rebellion in his own bases, while he also prepares to reveal his secret army. We see some of the “inhuman experiments” referred to in the game, and the “nerve staple” atrocity. All right!

Not wanting to say too much, but I did like the ending. In the last few pages you’re not sure what to expect, and then BAM!, he twists the knife.

Well played, sir.

Mr Ely was heavily involved in the creation of the game, and here he starts adding things that would be really cool to see in the game (I’ve been playing a Civ IV mod based on Alpha Centauri, so seeing them in that would be just fine, too). In plain Civilization IV, most countries have multiple available leaders, so reading the books, one can pick out potential contenders. Also, Deirdre’s Skyfarms of the book seems to be distinct from the Sky Hydroponics Labs of the game.

Anyway, I enjoyed this book, and for the whole series: so far so good. I’m almost to the end of the usually-expensive-but-I-picked-it-up-relatively-cheap third book in the series, I’ll let you know how it goes.

An Extra Game

Tonight, Oldest was given the option of playing a game with my wife and myself. He voted for Catan, and I voted for Ticket To Ride. My wife had the deciding vote.

So we introduced Oldest to Ticket To Ride Europe. I helped him initially with choosing the routes to keep. He did surprisingly well throughout the game.

My long route fit fairly well with my two shorter routes. The France/Germany area was busiest right at the beginning of the game, so I took to saving up blue and yellow for my London-Berlin route, and yellow, white and a bit of red I needed for other portions. The colours I needed were rather reluctant to show up when I was drawing train cards.

Meanwhile, my wife started building up in the Russia/Turkey area, where I also needed to build up, and both wife and Oldest were managing to build up where they needed to go.

Wife managed to build mostly one long route, with a couple of short offshoots, getting the Longest Road card.

Oldest actually drew more Route cards, and managed to complete them all. He had a lot of short sections, so had more sections of track than everybody else.

Wife managed to use all her plastic trains.

I was the only one not to complete a route: I had all the cards I needed, but needed three more turns to build them. the route I failed to complete, was of course the Really Long One, so instead of getting me lots of points, lost me them instead.

I ended on 77 points, Oldest on 116, a close second to his mother who finished at 132 points.

The good news is that Oldest enjoyed the game, so might be convinced to play it again. The tricky part is keeping Youngest out of it all…

A Game Night

Tonight we had a game night. We haven’t had one in quite a while, and it was relatively short notice, so our guest lineup was shaken up a bit (also, family visiting from England will throw that for a bit of a loop, too).

Shortly before people came, I was trying to brush up on the rules for Captains Of Industry, which I’ve been looking forward to playing for a long time (indeed, it’s been sitting in a prominent spot for a while), but in the end it didn’t seem like the right time to introduce a game that complicated. Maybe another time.

I brought up Catan, Dominion and Ticket To Ride from the basement, and we ended up not playing any of those, either.

I talked to one of the guests about the last game I Kickstarted, whose arrival I’m looking forward to: Bomb Squad. Co-operative but seeming to avoid the problem with games like Pandemic, of one player dominating (“here, you do this, you do this, then I can do this…”).

I know two games, brought by one set of guests, were played on a table I was not at. One was a trivia one, and some answers floated from our table to theirs.

The first game I played was Firefly Clue. I’d played it once before and enjoyed it. The last time, I’d just figured out whodunnit, and that was enough to tip the game’s owner to the same information and she won.

This time, I’d pretty much concluded the What, was pretty sure on the Who, and I’d lucked into the Where on my last guess, but that was enough to tip my mother off onto the right answers, so she got to the centre square and won.

Seems like you need a bit more space on the answer sheets, to write down who asked about what, who answered about what, and who has what, to keep better track.

The next game I played was Love Letter, which I was introduced to not long ago. We played nearly two games: the first game, I was in the lead with three cubes and only needed one to go, then one player had to go and another joined, so we started scoring from scratch. The second game, then, the new player, my sister-in-law, convincingly won.

We talked about playing Templar intrigue next, but there weren’t seven people free to play it with (7-10 players). There were still enough adults in the room to play it, but kid-wrangling was still going on, so we have to save this for another time.

The last game we played with guests, The Game Of Things. One player reads the text on a card (“Things you should not teach your pet to do”, “Things that don’t last very long”, “Things you shouldn’t do on a first date”, and so on), and all the players write something that fits with what the card said. The person who read the card reads the answers, and the next player has to guess who wrote what. If they get one wrong, the next player guesses, and so on, until everyone knows who wrote what (the player reading doesn’t guess, so the handwriting doesn’t give it away).

That was a pretty funny game, particularly as it was getting late, and people were verging into getting punchy and silly. Seems a good one to have on hand to be able to pull out.

We then chatted a bit about games we liked the sound of but haven’t tried. Currently on my radar of games I’d like to try and possibly even get, are Firefly The Game, and T.I.M.E. Stories. And I liked the story behind the creation of Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia.

It sounds like we might get Love Letter in the household at some point, too.

The last game I tried, after all our guests had gone, was one my sister (and brother-in-law, and niece) had left for my kids. My wife had played it with Oldest (I think my mother-in-law played some with them, too). It was called Loopin’ Louie. A crazed pilots flies round and round, trying to knock your chickens down. You can make him pull up when he gets close to you. Sounds like the kids enjoyed it, I played it against my wife, and it seems you might be able to learn how hard to hit i and exactly when, to make the plane come down again in exactly the right place. On the other hand, it keeps a fairly even playing field between the kids and grown-ups.

A good, fun, night.

Remember: games are good for you, but don’t eat too many at once.