Friday, March 30, 2007

The horror... the horror....

Actually, there's little in the way of horror to lament. It's a sunny Friday afternoon, I have but two classes to teach before the weekend, and only... um... 13 classes next week?

Short weeks are great. I am really looking forward to Easter-y goodness.

So, what exciting things have been happening lately in the world of Matt? Well, that depends on how you define exciting...

I bought a tablet and stylus for my computer, and have been playing with that a little this week. It's an interesting substitute for a mouse - very cool for graphics programmes, of limited use for applications where a combination of mouse and keyboard are used. One of the best things has been the ability to sit back from the computer with the tablet on my knee and draw.

It's nowhere near as good as drawing on paper, but it makes colourising a little easier, and is a fun toy.

Now that the fascinating story of my tablet has been shared, I suspect there's no follow up that could hope to match it. Perhaps I should talk about navel fluff? Or the speed at which my toenails grow?

Well, on the subject of growing, I have been enjoying the TV show Weeds. Debbie and I are about half way through season 2, and it's a fun show. Very, very liberal leaning, quite profane and explicit at times, but good.

Lastly, I have been playing with the school's spiral-binding machine. It's fun, when it works, and I now have a nicely bound printout of Best Friends, and one of Inspectres. This means the little hand bound booklet of Inspectres is kinda surplus to requirements, so I may give it to Hix (who also owns the pdf, but hasn't printed it out nicely to the best of my knowledge).

Oh, and I've been torn between two 48 hour film festival teams - the awesome Jenni's Angels, and a local team mostly comprised of the Pink Ladies from Debbie's work. The local flavour has won out in the end, so I guess I'm going to be camera-person, co-editor, co-writer and driving-into-town-to-hand-in-the-taper. Neat!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

7 days to go

Ah, to be sure, 'tis a grand fine thing that the holidays are approaching. The next week and a half are insanely busy at school (interim reports, several standards to assess, marks to get in etc.), but after that is the glorious relaxation of Easter and beyond.

I've been doing a lot of talking about roleplaying in the past couple of weeks, a little bit of talking about film-making, and a lot of teaching. I'm looking forward to changing around the proportions of some of my activities in the near future - including upping the amount of sleep I'm getting.

I have come to feel that teaching is a good career for many reasons, and whilst it is quite stressful at times, and has its frustrations, these are made up for by the much-needed holidays, the real lack of boredom, and the pay (which, once you've been teaching for a few years, is not too bad - getting up around $50,000 a year).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

ICT: Computers will save us!

I have been profoundly professionally developed this week. I am a swollen vessel of professional goodness, and no doubt every student I teach is already reaping the benefits.

I attended an ICT in Education conference on Tuesday (basically - why the internet is so powerful and important, even if you can't get your class into a computer lab or have access to the internet in your classroom; toys your school can't afford that are cool like interactive whiteboards and video-conferencing). It was OK, but neither as high-falutin' nor as practical as I had imagined it would be (neither inspirational nor useful. I'd hoped it'd be one or the other).

Then I had more ICT PD (Information and Communication Technology Professional Development) yesterday, which was quite inspirational.

I still don't have access to the internet in my classroom (despite having a laptop with wireless, and there being wireless routers all over the place), and I still have a hell of a time getting my classes into a computer lab. Last year I couldn't get my Year 9 students into a room with more than 13 computers in it until November. 13 computers is heaps, really, if you're working in pairs or groups. Except that the mini-lab is really mini. There are 13 seats, and about 2- 4 square metres of floor space (with a table in the middle) not taken up with desks and swivel chairs. It's a little smaller than the principal's office, and that's not that big.

Still, I am now Living In the Future, even if I don't have all the modern conveniences that would suggest. It's a brave new world, that has such ICT in it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Game Chef Comp Begins

Despite not actually being all that good at game desing, I have entered the last 2 Game Chef challenges. I am now once again tempted. The goal is to write a complete playable RPG in 2 weeks, using 3 out of 4 indredients from either Camp A or Camp B below:

Camp A...............Camp B
MEMORY............SACRED
DRUG.................ROSE
PALACE...............THREAD
CURRENCY..........INCONSISTENCY

Details here

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The working week grinds on...

But that's a rather boring thing to talk about. So instead, I think it's time for a little reminiscing.

Teen Boy Hobbies

Having once been a teen boy, I can dimly recall some of my hobbies from my teenage years. I was a little surprised to find that, when talking with some students yesterday, many of the hobbies that I engaged in 'back in the day' are still fairly common now (or at least were among the sample of teenage boys I was talking to yesterday).

Wanting to be in a band
This is the starter hobby for many youngsters who actually do end up being in a band. I spent quite some time 'wanting to be in a band', and then a tiny amount of time actually being in a band. And an even smaller amount of time performing.

Actually, I can think of only 2 occasions when I performed 'in public' as a teenager, and neither of those was anything remotely resembling 'cool' or even, really, 'public'. One was over live radio during a call-in show, the other was busking. That's pretty low when it comes to rock-star dreams, but that didn't stop me practicing the guitar and reading about bands and pursuing the hobby of band aspiration.

(In my post teen years I repeated a similar level of band-success, but with a lot more actual practicing. Performances outside the lounge of the flat = one).

Wargaming
Playing Warhammer 40K, and Fantasy Battle, took up a fair amount of my time when I was in high school. It was a fun hobby, and though I was never very successful (I lost a lot, and was both beaten and mocked at the one tournament I played in when I was 13 - but that's a grudge far deeper than this blog post could hope to encompass), I had a great time playing war with little painted figures.

Painting Little Figures
This goes hand-in-hand with the wargaming, and was a nice bonding experience with a couple of my friends - we'd thrown on some Sisters of Mercy or Metallica, grab some paints and miniatures, and chat for an hour or so. Much like fishing, I guess, but with more eye-strain.

Playing Computer Games
And arcade games, and Nintendo and Sega games, and later on Playstation. Actually, I don't remember whether Playstations were around when I was at high school - wikipedia to the rescue! ...and... no, Playstation was not available when I was in high school. So it must have been, maybe, the Sega Megasystem? Back to wikipedia... Yes, the Sega Mega Drive was a popular rental from our local video store. In my latter teens, there was a quantity of recreational drinking and so forth that went along with console gaming, as well as a general 'drop round and chill out' kind of vibe.

Caring what kind of music people listened to
This wasn't an all-consuming hobby by any means, but finding new bands to listen to, discussing musical styles, and generally being nosy and judgmental about the music people listened to kept my mind occupied and my conversations flowing when I roamed the suburban streets of an afternoon or evening.

Falling off a skateboard
I never developed any skill at skateboarding, but I did like riding around on a board, and falling off from time to time. The falling off usually happened when I tried to a) do something more interesting than go round a gentle bend or b) had been indulging in recreational beverages.

Making Stupid Videos
Such as Death Chicken 2, Goldilocks and the 3 Beers, and videos of my friends being drunk.

What's changed?
Um, the games are a lot cooler on consoles and computers. Video editing has become a lot easier, what with computers being all highly specced and easy to use. And... um. I'm older and wiser than I used to be, and no longer judge people based on musical taste.

Now I look at their DVD collection ;)

Friday, March 16, 2007

More shading

I have been playing around with shading on the Evil-genius pic I posted a few days ago. I don't think the shadows are exactly perfect, but I like the effect of lots of little shadow detailing. It was mostly done by hand, though I did copy the shapes of the robot, tree and zeppelin and then free-rotate/transform them, then make them into masks to adjust brightness. The shadow stuff on the main character was all done freehand (well, freemouse anyway).

I think I like it as a technique, and I'm a little curious about ways of adding shading like that in easily - by drawing in guidelines on the original image in another colour, for example. I tend to find pen-and-paper drawing quite quick these days, as I mostly operate within my comfort zone. Adding shading lines will be an interesting challenge.

OTOH, drawing all the elements separately (eg main character, robot, background etc) would probably allow for some very fast drop shadow creation using existing tools in the paint software. It's not the way I currently operate, but I could play around with it as an idea...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Picture, No Words

Well, a couple of words. This is based on the evil Genius Summer Camp game which inspired the monkey picture I posted last month.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

MRW 3

This weekend was the third Mega-Roleplaying Weekend Redux, up in Kapiti. I like to call them Kapiti Roleplaying Weekends, since they aren't in the same place, or organised by the same people as the original MRWs. They are certainly in the same spirit though - get a bunch of friends together for the weekend to stay in a house and play a whole bunch of RPGs. We have 2 houses close together in Kapiti, rather than one bach, but the good folks and lots of RPGs elements are the same.

This time round I ran one game, played in 3. Every exerience was awesome, and there were a whole lot of cool moments:

Price of Freedom
First thing Saturday I ran the introductory adventure from Greg Kostikyan's Price of Freedom . It was a cool, OTT game of American Patriotism in the face of evil Soviet invasion, set in the 80s (it was written in the 80s). I had 4 players to start, with 2 additions after the first scene. Debbie and I had spent Saturday morning downloading patriotic mp3s like 'Born in the USA' and the top 10 American Idols singing God Bless America and such. They made a pretty inspirationl backdrop to the game. The game was a lot of fun, with overwrought NPCs, chaos in the streets, and a fun board-game style hex based combat system. It was really quite fun to visit the old skool and really enjoy a well written tunnel-of-fun scenario. I managed to kill 2 of the PCs (one blew himself up with a grenade as a heroic last action - the other was caught and gunned down by Ivans). One noteworthy thing was how much I enjoyed a board-game style combat. It wasn't large in scale, but it had a dice-based tension that was really fun. And it was really clear where characters were in relation to one another, since we could all just look at the map. It reminded me of a lot of combats in games that were very satisfying, and was a strong contrast to a lot of the indie games that I've also enjoyed over the past year.

Wonderquest
After some chatting and hanging out time, we played a second round of games. I got to play in Donna's Wonderquest game, which I missed out on at Kapcon. It's a game in which 2 magical kingdoms are unexpectedly united by a portal, and one starts sending tourists into the other. I was playing an American tourist, passing through the magic kingdom of Disneyland, into the fantasy world of Reath. 2 of the PCs are tour guides, the rest are tourists, and it's a very cool game. I was playing an IT professional and fantasy buff, hoping to discover my destiny, or even better magic powers, whilst in Reath. Debbie was playing the manliest man around, and there was a lot of conflict between us - enough that I tried to shoot her character with a crossbow at one point. Much hilarity and fun was had, as well as some tasty tequila based cocktails. Very fun, and the walk between houses was awesome too.

Best Friends - Superheroes and Villains Big Brother
This was the stand-out game of the weekend for me - a fantastically funny and occasionally moving game about a group of heroes and villains living together and forming (or re-examining) friendships. It had some of the best one-liners, and some really awesome characters. Jenni wrote down quotes, so hopefully some of those will show up soon on Stonesoup. My favourite (paraphrased) quotes?

Bella Donna (incredibly beautiful villain with poisonous powers, but no smarts): I don't know why I never get chosen for eviction. I'd be a great evicted person. I could represent evicted peoples...

Bella Donna, to Stellar, one of the villains up for eviction: If you win, can you tell me what the eviction prize is?

I also like that my character, Blue Steele, a robot-like tough-girl with black and white morals, became friendly with most of the villains. She also got an unsuccessful makeover, and got to demolish and eat most of a steam-hut (sauna) in a 'construct a vegetable garden' challenge.

The insane 'voice-of-Big-Brother' was awesome too!

Frisbee and Hack
We spent part of Sunday morning on the now-traditional throwing of frisbees (I'm getting slightly better, though I am still pretty terrible), and kicking of hackey sacks. It was grand fine fun, and it was really hot out in the sun. The hack turned into a silly string of one-liners and jokes that caused several people to miss the hack due to laughing too hard, so that was neat.

We discussed marching order and what kind of characters we each were on the way back from the park. We decided that the Andersens were not PCs, but generic followers of a high level character. There were more available, but the two we had weren't a breeding pair. "To get more, you need to kill stuff, take its gold, then take that gold back to the Queen Andersen."

Inspectres
We finished off the weekend with a game of Inspectres, set in Beaumont, in the 1980s. We played 'Inspectres versus Footloose', essentially, and it was a lot of fun. There were some dark character moments, fairly strongly encouraged by the GM Hix. My character, Town Councillor Thomas Aquinas, turned out to be the father of one of his employees, the teenage 'daughter' of the Reverend. Her brother had died in a car crash, and she was constantly being ignored. Some mean person gave her the characteristic of 'adults don't remember who she is', so even after I found out I was her father (when I rekindled the affair with the Reverend's wife and she walked in on us), I promptly forgot.

Debbie's character ended up pretty much insane, Fraser's character was suicidal, I had rekindled an affair that was likely to end my marriage, and the franchise had gone out of business. Jenni's Milly had lost her new dress to the clutches of the zombie, Nick's Jack had been beaten at his own game (Baconning Out - to dance manically in the manner of Kevin Bacon).

On the positive side, Paul's wheelchair-bound ex-astronaut had run down the zombified corspe of the drunk driver who put him in a wheelchair (Debbie's character's brother), and felt he finally had closure.

It was pretty dark for an Inspectres game.

All up, a fantastic weekend, and one which has given my RPG batteries quite a boost. I felt pretty crappy yesterday and took the day off work, but I'm back in the saddle again, and looking forward to running Inspectres myself some time.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Gaming Weekend!

I am very excited about this weekend. A sunny, relaxed weekend of RPGs with good folks - bliss. I am about to start writing my relief lessons for Monday - just in case I'm too wiped out to make it in to work. Chances are fairly high ;)

I am very impatient, though. It's hard to concentrate on cerebral tasks, which makes planning hard to do. I have the attention span of a teenager - quite literally, I suspect, in that I was happy to print out, trim, cover and staple a copy of Inspectres, and then repair a copy of 'The Silver Sword' (by photocopying a page from another copy and cellotaping it into the book with the missing page), neither of which were short tasks. But they were physical tasks, of the kind that teenage boys can happily concentrate on.

Gah, even my typing is bad. Brain not work good. Manual tasks are acceptable, thinking be hard. Buh....

1 non-contact, 1 lunch eating supervision, one lunchtime, one Y11 Alternate English class, and 1 Year 12 English class to go. Roll on 3.30 I say!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Debbie blogs about teeth

Well, dentistry actually.

Here.

Ivory Tower Egg-Head Prejudice

If you can't spell very well, or if your writing lacks punctuation, some people will not bother to read what you have to say. If your writing is really sloppy, people may take pains to misunderstand you, just to teach you a lesson.

The same is true of speech - there are speech patterns that, to me, reek of a lack of education, or a knuckle-dragging unintelligent persona.

Knowing that you are prejudiced is an important step in managing your prejudice.

I had a fantastic 6th form History teacher (almost missed out the capital letter for the subject name there!). One day he asked the class - "Who here is racist?" understandably, nobody wanted to put their hand up. His follow up question was, "Who here is prejudiced?"

Then he put up his own hand.

The class (a good mixed Waikato class, about 60/40 Pakeha/Maori) were a little shocked, but he went on to calmly explain his position (obviously I'm paraphrasing here - it's been about 14 years):

"If I see a person walking down the street, and they are of a particular ethnicity, or are dressed a certain way, or are listening to a particular type of music, I make assumptions about them. I can't help doing it - we all do. Now, I don't cling to those assumptions - I'm happy to change them. But if I see a huge guy wearing a gang patch and dark sunglasses, covered in tattoos, I won't start talking to him about historiography. In fact, I probably won't even make eye contact with him. I don't know that he's a dangerous guy, but my best guess is that he might be. We try to fit people into categories that we are familiar with, so we can know how to interact with them. Prejudice is not always a bad thing - especially not if you recognise it, think about it, and are prepared to change your mind as more evidence comes to hand."

That was the gist, and I thought it was really refreshing to hear someone being honest about the fact that we do judge people based on how they look, that racial stereotypes exist, and that we shouldn't be ashamed of the fact that we have those reactions - as long as we control them, analyse them, and change them when we can (and it's appropriate).

Now, poor punctuation or typing can make an otherwise reasonable comment come across as particularly simplistic or shallow or pig-headed. Punctuation and care in typing help to create the writer's 'voice', as is shown by the use of CAPS below:

"You shouldn't believe everything he says."

"You shouldn't believe EVERYTHING he says."

"YOU SHOULDN'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING HE SAYS."

"YUO SHOULDNT BELEIVE EVEYTHING HE SAY"

I'm now going to quickly reread my post, make sure it actually says what I think it does, and check for errors. Being human, some may well still be there after proof-reading, but it will be a lot neater and more coherent than it would be had I simply typed furiously then hit publish.

Friday, March 02, 2007

My cat taught me how to use Firefox better

Huh, I never knew that you could enlarge text in firefox so easily, until my cat helpfully sat with her stumpy tail lightly pressing the control key (unbeknownst to me). Roll the scroll button of the mouse whilst pressing control, and apparently all the text in Firefox gets bigger or smaller.

Nice work, puss.

Flying Robot Bee?

Colourising is fun!

I have photopaint on my laptop now, and happen to have my old hard drive (in an external enclosure) with me today, so I have spent some of my free time colourising an image. It is quite a fun process, and it's nice to see the end result looking a lot cooler than the starting image:



and in greyscale:




This is one of the pictures I drew with Mike's Badass Space Marines game in mind. I think it's probably a little cartoony for his purposes, but I'm happy with how it turned out. I was remarking to Debbie just last night that although I'm not exactly a pro, I've really improved my drawing a lot over the past 10 years. It would be charitable to call my early comic efforts rough, but I've come a long way since then. It's satisfying to be able to look at a skill and say - yeah, I've stuck at it and gotten better.

On the other hand, I was once OK at playing the guitar, and my skills in that area have completely atrophied. So it's swings and roundabouts really. Either way, the weekend is nearly here - one tough class, one easy class to go. And, for the first time this week, no detention duty at lunchtime! I may even take a stroll about in the fresh air :)