Kurzgesagt – The Internet Makes You Smarter

I’m a firm believer that it is a duty to share information, and these days it has been made easier and easier for us to reach a huge audience with the knowledge we possess. The internet is awash with stupidity, both good and bad, and there’s plenty of intelligent content out there too, also good and bad (it’s far too easy to fabricate information to suit your own purposes) but it’s amazingly easy to use the internet to educate yourself without having to wade through trash and false-stories.

Enter one of the latest YouTube educators, Kurzgesagt/In a Nutshell. Starting in 2013, they’ve been producing a series of videos – about 5-10 minutes long – that give an overview of some of the more… enormous questions in life. They’re intelligent, offer fairly balanced views when their subjects get a little polarising such as nucular energy and the crisis in the Middle East, but remorseless when the subject is patently being mishandled like environment change or the war on drugs. Animations assist the elegantly written narration whilst unapologetically weaving in pop-culture references without intruding on the education. Continue reading “Kurzgesagt – The Internet Makes You Smarter”

June 19th – Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared

The nightmare is over.

And in some ways I’m quite sad.

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since we first saw the trio of Sesame Street-esque puppets learning how to get creative, but as of June 19th this year the nerve-shredding but perversely insightful series has come to a rather dramatic and yet oddly satisfying conclusion that answered everything, and at the same time absolutely nothing. Let’s take a quick look at the journey or Red Guy, Yellow Guy and the Duck…

1) Get Creative

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Nobody really knew what to expect on first view of the fabric world and it’s puppety inhabitants at first, it all seemed perfectly wholesome with the singing sketchbook singing about how to express yourself creatively, but it wasn’t long before the observant noticed something wrong with the way the sketchbook ignored the opinions of the Red Guy, later censoring Yellow’s attempts at doing something it hasn’t suggested. After a brief glimpse of the truth, and the artificial construct at play, the whole thing descends into chaos, the music becomes a painful cacophony, and the characters seem engaged in acts of madness rather than creativity.

Take the time to watch this twice, the second time looking for the little cues that are showing us how creativity is not being taught, it’s being crushed. The characters are told repeatedly what is and is not creative, and to only listen to the opinions of the sketchbook. At the end it is agreed that they will never be creative again, perhaps a hint that free thought is not allowed and we should all be normal because it is safer, a theme which is revisited later on.

2) Time

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We come to 2014, almost 3 years later, and the creepiest kids show has freaked out a large audience already, now it’s Time to learn a new lesson. Our group are distracted from their TV show by the singing clock who shows them the effect of time and the inevitable march of progress. If anything Time is even more oblivious to the objections of the group, shutting down anyone who tries to disagree or deviate from the path quickly before eventually strapping them into a futuristic device to marvel at technology, and finally subjecting them to the rigours of age.

I’ve heard different interpretations of this one, and I think my favourite is that we don’t have long to live so we should fill the time with stuff, “An old man died – But look, a computer!” although there’s some credit to the idea that it’s about how we gloss over the past, such as how the Victorian era is glossed over with nonsense before launching into more pointless rhetoric.

Then came the Kickstarter campaign, promising four more lessons for the puppet palls to learn. It also promises to let them go if we give them money.

3) Love

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Love is represented by a beautiful and softly spoken butterfly who takes care of Yellow after he runs off because the others upset him, and whisks him away over the clouds to a place where everyone is happy and cheerful and care about each other, and tell him stories, and give him new clothes, a new name, and introduce him to Malcolm, the King of Love who eats gravel. Yellow’s friends eventually find him, and bring him an egg, which hatches and the caterpillar inside calls him “Father”, before being squished.

This one takes you on a real journey, one that mirrors the path into many cults just like the cult of Malcolm, plucked from a place of confusion and sadness and introduced to people who supposedly care about them, but slowly erase their personality. It also goes into how we’re taught to perceive love, and the right and wrong ways to experience it.

4) Digitally

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A computer hijacks our merry adventurers efforts to learn something interesting about the real world by dragging them into a digital world full of flash and sparkle and wonder. Once again our Red guy is disinterested, and sarcastic, still seeking an answer to the question that they began with before the distractions eventually silence him, and as he watches his friends enslaved by the machine he seeks an escape, and in the process stumbles across the real world, which literally blows his mind (in a shower of confetti).

The shroud around the true meaning behind each video gets thinner and thinner, although Digitally gives a few clues that might easily be missed. The video is about how our relationship with the internet, how it distracts us, how it gives us license to be someone else, and how it is filled with so much and nothing all at the same time. The computer is also one of the more terrifying teachers, its hideous squeal as it drags the puppets into its realm is chilling.

5) Healthy

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Red is missing, apparently the events of Digitally were rather permanent, and the Duck and Yellow guy know something is wrong, but can’t quite pinpoint what’s wrong. And so begins the music, as a dancing lamb chop and can of spinach teach them all about being healthy. This time the Duck takes the role of doubter, and is obviously uncomfortable and tries repeatedly to escape through the ever-ringing phone, only to find grisly dismemberment on the other side.

The meaning is most obvious of all, the conflicting lessons about food are an obvious mirror of the ever changing things we are told are good for us and bad for us: “…but everyone has a teeth go grey, just eat yeast, it’ll all go away! But how much have you had today? Too much yeast makes your teeth go grey.” In the end the Duck is consumed by giant cans, the food industry behind the cameras, and we see Red walking morosely away from a phonebooth in the real world. It seems he was trying to save his friends.

6) Dreams

And now but one remains, he is all alone and weeping, trying desperately to find peace, but he’s deprived of sleep by a lamp that sings about dreams, but this episode does not follow the formula.

Out there in the “real” world, Red finds himself a slave to drudgery and boredom, in a world full of humourless cynics that look identical to him. He almost seems to miss the animated house he left, and sits alone in a bar surrounded by nonsensical small talk while another Red creature hammers ineffectually at a piano. He takes to the stage and starts to sing the song from Get Creative, only for the stage to dissolve, and he finds himself at the controls of the House in which he once lived. He tries to spare Yellow from the torment at the hands of… well there’s a few things I haven’t mentioned.

Themes

You may have noticed the reoccurring theme of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, that we are taught how and what to think, and by the media most of all. You’ll see it everywhere throughout the series in adverts, screens, and cameras, and in myriad subtle ways that even the more keen eyed amongst us may have missed. There are a few commonalities that are more obvious than others, the reoccurance of June 19th, or the numbers 1906, the use of the colour green, the image of a human brain, and the only parental figure.

The father of Yellow guy is by far the most horrifying figure, a vision of immorality who is seen from his introduction in Time and slowly he is revealed as the one pulling the strings. In the cult of Malcolm, a shadowy corner where the computer had been, standing above the set of healthy, and finally reaching to stop Red from interfering with the plan.

Is this a review? A summary? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. Once again we’re spreading the love for a series that we have become enthralled by, and that we discuss with the release of every new video. It’s almost a shame to see it gone, because I doubt anything will unnerve me in quite the same way again.

Credit for a lot of these explanations must go to Vinnie at YouTube Explained although he missed a few points I felt important, but seriously check out his thoughts on the series, he’s very observant.

Enjoying Failure

I suck at computer games, that’s a fact. Actually I’m not incredible at games in general with a few important exceptions. Weirdly there’s no consistency, I’m pretty good at chess and yet my strategic skills seem to fly out of the window as soon as I sit down to play any other game that needs them; luck does not favour me, my dice have shown me this, and only the presence of someone with considerably less luck than me can fix my dice.

So why, in the face of such constant defeat do I persevere? I’m certainly no glutton for punishment, and success is always preferable, that’s universal. Yet time and time again I will revel in my failures, and often they’re far more memorable than my victories… but in a good way.

Explosions

For those of you unfamiliar, Besiege is a game still under development that was opened for early access about a year ago (January 2015) in which the player is presented with a simple task, something along the lines of “destroy that building” or “get past all those things and sit there”. The challenge then becomes building the vehicle that moves and destroys.

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You never really know exactly how much effort goes into making something steer until you’ve actually tried to build something that does. It’s also a fascinating process incorporating fire into a structure made almost entirely of wood. Time and time again I have scrapped the lot and gone back to the drawing board amidst a heap of burning rubble, defeated by a stationary windmill positioned infuriatingly on a ridge that I can’t quite climb, and yet still I will try again.

Now failure itself is an enjoyable experience in Besiege, watching the vehicle you spent better part of half an hour on shake itself to pieces the first time you attempt a turn, or gods forbid anything so radical as a trebuchet arm. Yet going back to the beginning repeatedly becomes a pleasure too, revisiting simple problems from the ground up leads to a process of trial, error, failure, tweaks, adjustments, failures, and eventual, accidental success.

I daren’t even attempt flying machines.

Platformers

There’s a recurring issue I have with platformers, and that is every time I fall to my death it seems to take me a long time to return to where I failed last. I’ve been playing Alice: Madness Returns, and I got increasingly frustrated with one very simple point. It wasn’t a puzzle to be solved, something hidden to be found, or a fight I found beyond my abilities, it was a couple of jumps that I was struggling to judge, and the walk back to the point where I could attempt it again took a while to get back to.

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Also, the invisible platforms are kind of mean

Extra Credits did an entire video on the subject [skip to around 4:10], but the moral of this story is very simple: the faster you get to try again the more fun you’ll have. Platforming games in general tend to leave you with a long walk back to where you fell and you’ve usually managed to get through a few tricky obstacles in-between times.

Moreover, defeat in a platformer is rarely that fun. Instead of the wildly disastrous explosions of Besiege, we have disappointing falls as a result of bad timing. It’s a genre that finds a lot of love amongst people for whom skill is a pursuit and success is its own reward, but so help me I love a spectacle and a good story because I play to be entertained, and I prefer to tax my mind more than my reactions. A failure can be – and so far as I’m concerned, should be – as entertaining as a victory.

Experience

We fail so that we can learn, that’s a fairly simple fact. If we succeed at everything then we will be no wiser for it, although paradoxically our lives would be perfect.

Every failure is an opportunity to learn, trial and error, to see what brings you closer to your end-goal, and what takes you further away. This is true of everything in life, so each and every time your defeats become smaller it comes with the slight twinge of success, something that you carry forward to your next attempt and an opportunity for a new discovery.

These rules apply to gameplay, design, practically any skill you can name except for base jumping. It’s a learning process that is both enjoyable and highly effective.

Educating Yourself

Or:

How Everyone’s A Massive Geek And Probably Doesn’t Know It

I’m sitting here chain-watching a lot of Extra Credits videos. If you don’t know, they’re animated, educational mini-lectures on the subject of games design, games industry, and the socio-economic impact of games. It’s an elegant series, and while many of the lessons are things I’ve considered and discussed from a less educated perspective in DMing 101 I have learnt vast amounts and have had new avenues of thought opened to me as I design a new campaign that I’m starting this year (a serious attempt at a tabletop sandbox) and it’s deeply gratifying to find an intelligent and edifying thing available in a rapid-delivery format on a subject that I love and feel passionate about to want to dissect in detail. Continue reading “Educating Yourself”

Inventive Uses For A Raspberry Pi

There’s no denying it, the Raspberry Pi has been an incredible success story. Some people have used them as a portable computer, but many more people have come up with some of the most inventive uses for this little device. Read on to find out some of my favourite uses for the microcomputer.

There’s no denying it, the Raspberry Pi has been an incredible success story. Some people have used them as a portable computer, but many more people have come up with some of the most inventive uses for this little device.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the clever device, the Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, tiny little machine which is capable of being a fully fledged computer. It’s impressive in that it comes with its own operating system (Raspbian is the default) and this machine is no bigger than a credit card in size. It has found its way to plenty of classrooms to teach children and students how to program, as well as being used in many different offices and departments across the world.

Picade

Picade

Let’s not beat around the bush with this one, the Picade is a brilliant idea. A microcomputer that allows you to play all of the arcade classics in a really neat and well presented package, it’s a dream come true. It’s all very self explanatory, so it’s worth checking it out, although it does cost £180 for the kit.

Google Calendar

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This is one of my personal favourite uses for the Raspberry Pi and it’s incredibly simple. Effective, oh hells yeah, but it certainly is simple. But the best projects usually are. This instructable allows you to create your very own Google Calendar wall screen. You mount the screen, power it up and boom, you’ve got yourself a Google Calendar on the wall!

R2D2

Yes, this is a homemade R2D2 that responds to voice commands and does quite a few neat little things. Whilst this is on the extremely advanced levels of what the Raspberry Pi can do, this is proof that if you’ve got an idea, a piece of kit like the Pi can really make a difference. The man who made this did it for his girlfriend, which is an adorable level of geeky affection.

If R2D2 isn’t your thing, check out this post about a Raspberry Pi powered K-9!

If you want to get a Raspberry Pi for yourself, the version 2 pi’s cost a little more than £30, making this a tinkerers ideal toy. It’s lightweight and portable, since it is only the size of a credit card, so it’s well worth the small investment if you’re looking to spice up your house with nifty little gadgets and do-dads. Have you seen any particularly clever uses for the Raspberry Pi or any microcomputers? Have you got one of these for yourself and have you done anything cool with yours? Let us know in the comments below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.

DK Multimedia

I’ve had a long-lost memory uncovered, and suddenly I remember exactly what I was doing between the ages of about 5 and 10 aside from hoarding lego and running more than I can now. The Dorling Kindersley publishing company moved into educational software in the early 1990s as accompaniment to their book series, such as the Eyewitness Guides. I admit I don’t know how well spread these things are, but in the UK they were prolific, but I rarely hear it spoken of much. Maybe it’s just one of those things that’s so endemic that we don’t notice it any more, or feel it worth remark.

Well here I am remarking! Continue reading “DK Multimedia”

Education in Games

As an avid video gamer, I do like to think about some of the powerful applications video games have.

When I was growing up, I wanted nothing more but to play games. So much so, I didn’t even realise I was playing video games that were incredibly educational. I will always remember the phrase: “Beep, beep! The area of a circle is Pi r Squared. Mhmhmhm, Pi!

Continue reading “Education in Games”