Monthly Archives: January 2010

One A Day, Day 14: CLICK.

Well, we took our photography trip. So, without further ado, here’s a selection. These haven’t been adjusted or fiddled around with yet, so some of them are a bit dark and the white balance is a bit wonky on some of them as Sam and I were experimenting with settings. Still, I thought I’d share anyway.

These were taken at Lepe Country Park, which is here. It’s a relatively unremarkable beach, but it has a few hidden interesting bits, and some D-Day remains if you’re willing to walk far enough. Plus, of course, pebbles, sand and seaweed. Apparently between April and September part of it is a bathing beach but I can’t imagine dipping myself into that grotty water and coming out alive.

One A Day, Day 13: Round Midnight

Yes, I’m aware it’s after midnight. But the official One A Day rules clearly state (somewhere… possibly not on that page, but I can’t be bothered to look it up right now) that the “day” is from when you get up until when you go to bed. And I’m not in bed yet. So there.

It is, however, late, so this entry is going to be somewhat phoned in. Fortunately, there’s not a great deal to talk about today. Got up, played some Mass Effect in preparation for the sequel, played some Star Trek Online (which the official Head Start has now begun for) and went to my buddy Sam’s for some board games, Chinese and booze. We played Power Grid. I lost. Then we played Carcassonne, and I also lost. Still, never mind. It’s the taking part that counts, and all that.

We did rediscover the wonder of gin and tonic though. In recent years, I’ve found that a lot of booze leaves me with an unpleasant feeling of heartburn very quickly, meaning I can’t drink much of a lot of things and when I do, I don’t enjoy them that much. The G&Ts we had tonight went down rather too smoothly if anything, and made the already-lengthy game of Power Grid last even longer than usual. That’s no bad thing, though, since it’s a fun game that taxes your brain.

Tomorrow I may be taking a trip with Sam to take some photos. Haven’t got my camera out to take some proper photos for ages, so if we do go it’ll be good to get back into it. Interesting ones will, of course, be shared here.

Right. Now it’s time for bed. G’nite.

One A Day, Day 12: It’s pronounced B-O-LL-O-CK-S.

Good evening! Since my wife’s viewing of televisual car crash Popstar to Opera Star precludes my playing of Mass Effect and its sequel on the TV, and Star Trek Online has decided to update itself with a patch that will take 5 hours to download on Steam (despite the fact I was playing it earlier with no problems), now’s as good a time as any to get today’s entry done.

Today I would like to rant about phonics, since I had a long, boring, pointless and patronising training day on this very subject today.

For the uninitiated, phonics is the theory which suggests that children should learn reading by sounding out individual phonemes in words, then learn how to “blend” them together where appropriate. It also suggests that it’s sensible to teach six-year olds the words “morpheme“, “phoneme“, “grapheme“, “digraph” and “trigraph” – words which I didn’t come across until I studied English Language at A-level (age 16-18) and again at university.

The flaw, in case you haven’t spotted it, is that English isn’t a phonetic language. We have so many different ways of pronouncing each letter in our alphabet that using phonics to teach reading quickly becomes useless – and in the meantime, it fucks up spelling ability.

As if to emphasise this point, the official materials for teaching phonics from the government include an appendix of the most “high-frequency” words in the English language. Out of the thirty most-used words in the English language, fourteen of them are designated “tricky” words, which means that the phonics rules don’t apply to them. Well, if the phonics rules don’t apply to almost half of the most common words in the language, exactly what use is it to anyone?

The funny thing is, I can’t remember how I learned to read. I imagine that’s not an uncommon thought – childhood memories fade over time, after all – but I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve phonics at any point. I can tell this because I can spell, and don’t think that because “rough” is pronounced “r-u-ff” that it should be spelled that way too, which is what I see kids doing on a daily basis.

It’s difficult to know what to suggest, though. Phonics is fashionable. Someone somewhere said it was “good” and it stuck. As with most fashions, this is nothing to do with how good it is. It is simply the “in” thing at the time.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the leader of today’s training day was a patronising, aggressive middle-aged harpy who clearly had a chip on her shoulder about something. Her holier-than-thou attitude towards phonics and teaching reading and her steadfast refusal to consider any alternatives (even doing an arrogant “shaking head” movement whenever anyone raised a point she didn’t agree with) made everyone resent the process even more than its inherent stupidity already did.

This video pretty much sums up the problem:

(Thanks to Jeff Parsons for bringing this to my attention.)

Here’s a poem, too. Don’t say I’m not good to you.

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead -
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart -
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five!

Quoted by Vivian Cook and Melvin Bragg 2004,
by Richard Krogh, in D Bolinger & D A Sears, Aspects of Language, 1981,
and in Spelling Progress Bulletin March 1961, Brush up on your English.

One A Day, Day 11: Violet Tendencies

Just completed an interactive fiction title called “Violet”. It’s been a while since I played an IF game from start to finish so my puzzle-solving is a bit rusty. Fortunately, Violet is one of those games where the focus is not so much on the puzzle-solving, rather on the entertaining prose and bizarre situations you find yourself in.

It’s a “one-room” game, meaning you’re confined to one place for the duration of the game and have a number of challenges to overcome. In this case, you’re a struggling PhD student trying to write your dissertation. Your Aussie girlfriend, the titular Violet, has issued you an ultimatum to spur you into action against your own procrastination: write a thousand words today, or she’s flying back to Australia, never to return.

It sounds simple. The instructions at the start of the game tell you that “all you need to do is WRITE”. So you type “WRITE”… and thus begins a long sequence of hilarious distractions from the job at hand, which I won’t spoil for you here. Suffice it to say, by the end of the experience you’ve suffered a number of amusing mishaps that do nothing for your dignity.

The interesting thing with Violet is its writing. Most IF is written in a second-person perspective, with an omnipresent, omniscient narrator that tells you what you’re doing and whether what you’re trying to do is successful. Violet, conversely, is written from the perspective of Violet, or more specifically, “your” memory of Violet. This means that the narrator’s attention is just as likely to wander as your own, with a number of cheeky asides about your coworkers, old flames and seeming inability to get anything useful done cropping up throughout the course of the story as you desperately do something – anything – to keep your mind on your work. It also means that there’s a lot of character in even the simplest of interactions – the traditional “Taken.” prompt upon picking something up is replaced by Violet saying something like “Yours, wallaroo” or a variety of other pet names. Despite Violet not being physically present throughout, her comments (or rather, what you imagine her comments would be) on the various things you do and the objects you look at give you a good insight into the characters of both the protagonist and Violet herself.

It’s a great little story that starts with a vaguely serious tone and ends up somewhat farcical. It’s pleasantly short, too, with a hint system (and no penalty for using it) for those who simply want to enjoy the tale without having to think too much.

You can download it here – there’s full instructions on how to get it up and running on your system on that site. If you have Frotz for iPhone, you can download it straight into the app.

One A Day, Day 10: On The Edge

Part the First

Horrible day today. The behaviour of the children is getting worse and worse and I feel powerless to do anything about it. Probably because I am powerless to do anything about it. My predecessor apparently used to “bellow” at them every so often to get them to be quiet, but last time I bellowed at them (which got the point across nicely, incidentally) I ended up being the one getting told off for it. Which is pretty ridiculous, really.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Children respond to shock tactics and humiliation. The stupid culture of reward that is instilled in modern education now does not achieve anything. When you reward children for everything, including sitting down on a chair (I’m not joking) all rewards completely lose their impact and all you’re left with are punishments… which don’t work because the kids don’t respect adults. It’s a complete no-win situation and short of a drastic shakeup of the education system, I don’t see a way forward. But it’s not politically correct to punish children. It’s not even politically correct to shout at them any more. Teachers are impotent in the face of poor behaviour.

Take one kid in my class. I won’t use his real name. Let’s call him Jack. No, actually, let’s call him Cock. Because he is.

Cock has a difficult home life – one of those indecipherable ones involving domestic violence and on-off relationships. As a result (apparently) he’s become the person he is – rude, argumentative, confrontational, violent, cheeky and lazy. The school he’s at now – where I teach him – was about his third in the space of a couple of months when he arrived.

I can’t do anything with him. And when he chooses to kick off, he drags the rest of the class along with him. Because, being kids, they find it hilarious when he lies on the floor, or runs around chasing people, or starts shouting “The Pakistanis are coming!”. In a school with a rather large ethnic minority population.

And there’s nothing you can do about it. He’s been spoken to by me and senior members of staff at the school. His parents have been spoken to. He’s had letters home. He has special sessions with teaching assistants. Yet still he’s an asshole. His home life is used as a constant excuse for his shitty behaviour. And while it may upset him, that’s still not an excuse. There’s too much hand-wringing over what are delightfully termed “challenging” children. They should suffer the consequences of poor behaviour just like everyone else. Except no-one else really suffers any consequences either.

Right. Starting to see the problem here.

Still, after handing in my written resignation I calculated today that I only have 51 days until my escape – only 35 of which are actually teaching days. Which is nice. Beginning to wish I had just given them a week’s notice and buggered off.

Part the Second

So Apple finally announced the iPad, the official name of the “Apple tablet” which everyone has inexplicably known about for months. And already there are painfully unfunny jokes going around about the “iTampon”. I may just be grumpy because of a shit day, but I don’t find that even a little bit funny – largely because we’ve had things called “[something] pad” for years and no-one has ever commented. My estimation of the intelligence of the Internet has just dropped a notch, and I’m reminded of something Mark Whiting of the Squadron of Shame said on our Deus Ex podcast – “Back in ’99 we all thought the Internet would turn into SkyNet. This was before we knew it would turn into 4Chan.”

As for the device itself… it’s a big iPhone which, at this time, I have no interest in owning. I like proper computers too much to even consider a tablet. Call me a traditionalist.

Part the Third

At the time of writing, in 12 hours’ time, there will be something exciting announced on Good Old Games. They have been cock-teasing everybody for the last few days on Facebook and Twitter… tomorrow we’ll get to finally find out what the big news is. I’m certainly intrigued. You should be too.

Now it’s late. Time for bed for me. This entry has been fragmented, but so has my brain. I really don’t want to have to go in and deal with those kids again tomorrow… but I have to just keep counting down to first freedom and then an undoubtedly awesome time at PAX East. I can’t wait. For either thing.

Good night.

One A Day, Day 9: All Wound Up

All wound up, on the edge, terrified. Sleep disturbed, restless mind, petrified. Bouts of fear permeate all I see. Heightening nervousness threatens me.

That’s the opening to Dream Theater’s Panic Attack, a song I adore both for its Castlevania-esque piano/orchestra/choir breaks every so often but also for its blunt, honest portrayal of what it feels like to have a mind that’s so stressed out it feels like you might explode.

Feeling that right now. The pounding inside my head isn’t helping the feeling, as I have a headache from the very depths of R’lyeh to contend with at the moment and I am holding the annoying children I have to endure for my day job personally responsible. Tuesday is supposed to be my “quiet day”, with the morning spent doing planning for the upcoming week, but the kids I teach more than made up for me not having the morning with them by not shutting up for the whole bloody afternoon. It didn’t help that our Maths lesson was interrupted by having to line up, go downstairs and watch twenty minutes of Indian dancing before going back to finish off a task which they didn’t understand not because it was too difficult for them but because they didn’t fucking listen the first time and the second time and the third time I explained what the little shits were supposed to be doing.

Arrrrgh! How annoying!

*breathes*

So how are you, reader? I hope my misfortune is either entertaining, eye-opening or both to you. The main reason today didn’t give me a complete nervous breakdown is the knowledge that it’s not forever. The only thing I wish I didn’t have to deal with is the fact that the school I work at is in “special measures”, which means that government inspectors (who have probably never spent even a single hour at the chalkface) came around to look at it (before I arrived, I might add) and judged it as “failing”. Like I said in the last post I mentioned this in, the fact that we can get any work at all out of some of these horrendous children is a minor miracle. Still, the government judges the school as “failing”, which means extra stress for everyone involved as the inspectors return every so often at very short notice to come and see how things are improving. This also means we have people from the local education authority coming at short notice to see how things are doing. This means we have lesson observations at incredibly inconvenient times, like next week. At least whatever outcome this observation has no longer matters for me, though I feel for my poor colleague in the classroom next door who not only has a lesson observation but also has to spend a protracted amount of time in the company of The Most Miserable Woman In The World talking about assessments we haven’t done yet.

I am clearly making the right decision to escape from this as early as possible. There will be no regrets. At least when I look back on the three years and one term that I’ve spent as a teacher, I have enough experience to say 1) “I’m never doing that again!” and 2) “Thinking about teaching? DON’T BE AN IDIOT.”

Now there’s something they don’t say in their patronising, unrealistic adverts.

One A Day, Day 8: Success!

I have successfully managed to arrange my escape from my job! Went to see my boss today and, as it turns out, I was only obliged to give one week’s notice to quit. As tempting as it was to say “Well, I’ll bugger off next week then. Ta-ra!” I decided against it so I can actually have a bit of money on hand in order to go to PAX.

Because this exciting news means that I will definitely be going! I’m stoked. The last time I went to a big industry event was when they still did them in Europe. I attended ECTS (the European Computer Trade Show, if I remember rightly) with my bro, and that was a long time back now. I’ve heard my buddies in the Squadron of Shame wax lyrical about PAX in the past and have been incredibly jealous. Now I get to join in the fun. It’s going to be an awesome time, and I can’t wait to finally meet some of the guys I’ve only ever spoken to on Skype before… or in some cases (Mr Bowlissimo!) only ever typed things to.

Also, my Bayonetta article got promoted to the front page on BitMob. People dig the IF thing, so I wrote another one. I also downloaded the Inform interactive fiction toolset to have a play with. Inform is bizarre – it’s a programming language that works very similarly to plain English. I’m going to knuckle down and have a good go with it this week – probably at the weekend.

So – two good things in one day. It’s a nice change. It even managed to distract me from the fact that the kids in my class were being stupid noisy bastards all day and the meeting we had after school was beyond pointless. Now I have a countdown (which I haven’t calculated yet) I can relax a bit more. Except for the fact I don’t have a new job to go to yet. Still, I have a couple of applications in for some exciting jobs, the closing date for one of which is this Friday, so I’ll have to wait and see if anything comes of that.

Then there’s the possibility of doing some freelance work. This would be ideal, especially if I could combine it with some music teaching work. I like music teaching. People pay you and you work with them on an individual basis. You don’t have thirty annoying children all talking to each other and not listening in front of you. Much more pleasant and less inclined to make you want to throw things.

That’s that for today. I’m going to go play some Star Trek now.

One A Day, Day 7: Achievement Unlocked!

That’s one week of continuous blogging. Achievement unlocked! Okay, some of the entries have been fairly pointless so far, but at least I’m writing something, and there’s no better practice at writing than to actually do it.

Just been for a run – my third this week. This means I’ve successfully completed the first week of the course I linked to yesterday. Achievement unlocked! Here’s the route I took today, in case you were curious. Going over the Itchen Bridge meant there were a lot more hills than usual, so my legs feel like they’ve had a decent workout today.

I have a meeting with my boss on Monday to discuss my leaving date! Achievement unlocked! Possibly!

Enough of that. Achievement un… Stop it. Seriously.

Today’s been another quiet, dull day. Played a bit more of the Star Trek Online beta earlier and tried out a character on the Klingon side. It seems that Klingon players mainly play PvP missions – or perhaps that’s just what’s in the Klingon sectors. I wonder what happens if you go further afield?

On the writing front, it’s been great to see members of the Squadron of Shame getting well into contributing to BitMob, one of the best community-driven games sites out there, with lots of “alumni” from the 1up blogosphere (ugh… hate that word) finding a new home there. I’ll definitely be contributing more as time goes on – if nothing else, it’s good practice for thinking up interesting ideas for articles which I could pitch to potential freelance clients. If you haven’t checked out my articles there yet, go do so! (The Bayonetta article is by far the most popular. I’m not sure what that says to me.)

That’s about all I have to say today, apart from the usual “I really don’t want to go back to work on Monday”. But let’s try and be positive. There’s still some of Sunday night left. Dinner, avoiding seeing Dancing on Ice and probably Star Trek Online await.

One A Day, Day 6: LOADING…

I’m writing this while I’m waiting for BitMob’s idiosyncratic blog editing software, MyBlog, to load. The tag database on BitMob is now so big that it takes 2-3 minutes to load the editor now. It was irritating the first time it happened, but I’m sort of used to it now. You quickly get into the habit of doing something else while it loads. And talking of BitMob, if you haven’t checked out my “Bayonetta as a text adventure” article over there yet, go take a look. People who have read it seem to dig it, so thank you so much to those of you who have read, commented and retweeted it. There will be more along those lines sometime soon.

Today has been a pleasurably useless day. Got up late, played a bit of Demon’s Souls, including beating the second boss first time thanks to the assistance of a phantom I summoned in to assist. That is a fantastic feature – players being able to mark themselves as available for assistance, and other players being able to “borrow” them to help them through tough sections. It’s a nice idea, and the fact the other player enters your world as a phantom at least goes some way to justifying the difficulty in voice chatting on the PS3. Sort of.

Then I had lunch and played a bit more of Star Trek Online. The open beta is coming to an end soon, and they’ve unlocked the other sectors and removed the level cap for now. The intrepid Mike Minotti took an expedition over to Deep Space Nine and immediately suffered an intense nerdgasm. I’m looking forward to seeing it for myself – going to play a little more tonight. Cryptic have done a great job of creating an MMO that’s a little bit different from all the me-too WoW clones out there. Ground combat is a little more fast-paced than most MMOs, while space combat is just magnificent, particularly when you’re working with other players.

Then I went for a run. For those of you who were asking about the site I mentioned a few days ago, this is it. I’ve done two of the first week’s workouts this week, and need to fit my other one in tomorrow to keep on schedule. Should be eminently doable though. My current “pace” is to run for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, then run again, then walk again, and so on. It works, and I felt like I could have kept going for a little longer than the just-under-30-minutes I did today. It’s definitely better to do it like that rather than attempt to keep running, running, running and become completely demoralised when you realise you can’t do it, gasping for breath after a few hundred yards. And when I say “you” I, of course, mean “I”. Want to see my route? Here. Gotta love the iPhone.

So this evening will be more of the same, I imagine. Planning on hitting up Star Trek Online for a bit more space-based entertainment in a little while, though I have a rough idea for an article on BitMob to fiddle around with first.

Have a fine and pleasant evening, y’all.

One A Day, Day 5: It’s the Weekend!

Yes, it’s the weekend, assuming you’ve finished work.

As much as a love the end of a working week, I find something profoundly irritating about people who talk about the weekend as if it’s some sort of magical entity capable of curing all evils and making the world a better place. It’s not magical. It’s two days off, after which you’ll have to go back to your stultifyingly boring and depressing job, coming just to the borderline of seriously contemplating slitting your wrists by Friday, before you get to go home, get some actual sleep, spend two days wanking and crying then start the whole hideous process over again.

The worst culprit for weekend-hype is Annie Mac‘s show on BBC Radio 1. Radio 1 is irritating at the best of times, but Mac’s show takes the biscuit. Her jingles seem to consist entirely of either airhorn noises (the use of which seems to be growing in popularity, annoyingly) or special needs people yelling “It’s FRIDAY!” then giggling like they’ve got a wasp in their Jap’s-eye and don’t know whether it tickles or really fucking hurts. Take a listen if you can stomach it. The thing is, some of the music she plays is actually quite good for a Friday night drive home. But as soon as she starts talking or pressing the magic noise-making buttons on her console, I want to throw smelly things through my radio into her stupid face.

Still. The weekend is good in that you can sleep in and then get things done that you’ve been intending to do all week. Or, indeed, spend two continuous days wanking and crying, as intimated earlier. Both are perfectly acceptable uses of your time. The choice is yours.

I know what I’m planning to do.