Book Review: Never Ending Bad Day

I greatly enjoyed The Labyrinth Society, and looked forward to reading middle grade fiction in Never Ending Bad Day. Reading this reminded me how much I loved this type of novel when I was younger! I think I read every Ruth Chew novel under my desk in fifth grade. (One of my students this summer, when he was receiving his contraband phone back at the end of the day, admitted that no one had ever caught him using his phone in class before. I wanted to tell him that he may well be a skilled novice, but I am the master.)

Fourteen-year-old Misty throws a coin in a gargoyle fountain, and wishes for the last day of summer vacation to never end, which is such a perfectly realistic wish, but naturally it goes as well as any wish from a literal-genie wish granter (Yeah, that’s a link to TV Tropes, I hope you weren’t planning on doing anything much for the next couple hours), and Misty gets stuck in an endless loop of August 12th.

First, she has a terrible day, but then she’s able to replay her very bad day, with some changes. Instead of getting a black eye from an errant ball at a baseball game, on the second day she neatly catches it. Or she decides NOT to eat herself sick on chocolate chip pancakes.  (There’s quite a bit of, uh, bodily functions in this book. I wasn’t at all into that, although I admit that in my thirties, my idea of a terribly bad day is more “your position is being eliminated” and not “ate too much junk food”. Still, eew.) But then her do-over seems more and more like a curse, and Misty, with some help from her friend Stanley, has to figure out

Things I liked: Female protagonist. Female protagonist with a believable best friend and legit friendship. A young girl being brave. Friends solving a magical curse together. Evil gargoyle redemption.  A cool glimpse into a magical world of witches and gargoyles, just below the surface in our own world.  One throwaway line about how very many people in our world are just holograms going through the motions, but no one ever notices. I’d expected a juvenile fantasy to be a bit predictable (see previous re: loads of magical middle grades fiction), but found the actual breaking of the gargoyle curse was quite surprising.

The book opens with a short explanation of the author receiving an(other) enchanted quill which contains this story. It’s just a quick intro, but I might have enjoyed this brief glimpse at the Lady Jenniveive fantasy world just as much as the fantasy world build in Never Ending Bad Day.

Things I didn’t like: Bodily functions. Dialogue is clunky at times. (Stanley to Misty: “Our last day in Myrtle Beach until next year. By then we’ll be all freaked out because we’ll be full-blown teenagers with changing bodies we don’t understand—so we need to enjoy life while we’re still half-way kids.”)

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I received a copy of Never Ending Bad Day from the publisher to review.

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Some Days I Really Love The Internet

fck yeah hyacinths

I recently built a Tumblr that’s automated to just find Instagram photos of flowers I like, backlink the photographer, queue and then regularly reblog them to a  pretty layout, so that whenever I feel sad, I have a whole page of lovely new hyacinths. Specifically photos of hyacinths, tagged in multiple languages, without accidentally getting any silly hyacinth macaws in my flower blog, so I have something lovely and relaxing and constantly changing for me to see.

I checked it the other day,  and it’s gotten dozens of followers, and I’m not even the most active fan. I feel like I have all these flower-loving friends now, looking at hyacinths whenever they feel stressed.

Some days I really love the internet.

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Still Life With Yggdrasil

yggdrasil

My friend Allison has this on a necklace, she wore it a lot in college. Actually, I’m not sure sure if she wore it every single day, but that’s how I picture her in my head, and so, every time I see it on jewelry or other designs, I’d think of Allison.  Pretty sure Allison didn’t actually invent Yggdrasil, but I see it as “her” thing.

(By the way, one of our projects at work is called Bifrost, and I didn’t come up with it, but if you’re a fan of describing technical products through mythological allusions, it is kind of perfect. Studying ancient myth, you guys,  improves basically everything.)

 

I realize, though, that no one I know in Chapel Hill has ever seen Allison, and isn’t that terribly sad and bizarre? That Harold and Allison have never met each other? That my adventures living upstairs from Allison were all more than ten years ago? That I see my friend basically once every two years? Wait, what I meant to say is, that since no one here knows Allison, I can probably wear the same world tree without being a big copycat.

These are my new favorite earrings! I think about Allison every time I put them on, which is nice. Also, I got these on my midwinter beach adventure with Harold, when we decided that adults can drive to the ocean in January if they feel like it.

And naturally, I wore these earrings  to New York, and when I went to have dinner with my sister. We met on the Upper West Side, and once we got out of the cold, and into a wonderful basement restaurant (that turned out way fancier than I’d expected, from a basement restaurant, but then again, UWS), I peeled off my scarf and hat.

“Oh, Meggie!” my sister said, “I have those earrings, too!”

 

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How to Protect your PC from Malware

bitdefenderNot all software is good, and some software can contain viruses or other malware. Malware often comes along as a part of a seemingly legitimate piece of software, especially downloaded software. Like when you download a game, and there’s a “free” toolbar attached (Looking at you, Yahoo toolbar. Ugh), only it’s a bit harder to get rid of the malware.

To protect computers against malware, most people install an antivirus software, such as Bitdefender free antivirus. A high quality antivirus program will remove any existing malware from the computer, and will protect against any new malware.

Avoid Sketchy Links

According to the experts at Bitdefender, almost 50% of computer viruses spread because unsuspecting users click on troublesome links. Sometimes these are found in emails, or from a link on a social network, particularly with the prompts “YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!” or “Is this you in this video?” from an unknown sender. Then, the user expects to find a video or some other harmless piece of content, but really winds up with a virus or other malware.

Some email services let users scan downloads automatically, or you can choose to do this when you receive suspicious attachments, or files from strangers.

Backup your Data

Everyone knows they need to backup their work, but not everyone actually gets around to doing it. Depending on your line of work, you might want to save everything to an external drive, or just save it to the cloud, using a cloud service. If you have your work saved in Google Drive, or a similar program, your data is safely backed up. Just don’t lose your password, or let others figure it out…

Sneaky Passwords

If you want to make sure anyone can get into your account, use your pet’s name and your birthday. Or use PASSWORD, or Password1.

A good password, however, involves uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Basically, when choosing a password, the more annoying it is to type on a mobile device, the better it is for security.

Also, for important services, like your email, LinkedIn, company network, Facebook, and so forth, don’t use the same password twice.

Block Pop-ups

You probably already have a pop-up blocker, because pop-ups are insanely annoying, but antivirus companies like to remind users that malware can also come via pop-up.

Look Out For Malware

If you notice your computer is crashing more frequently, freezing, slowing down when handling basic task, you might have some kind of malware infecting your computer. You might also notice your start page changing or a new toolbar appearing.  Some kinds of malware even cause the battery of the laptop to drain faster, which is pure evil. The sooner you notice these things, the easier it’ll be to get rid of the malware and protect your computer.

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Revisited Game Review: Women’s Murder Club

Originally written for ThumbGods, a coupe years ago, but I recently dug out my DS for visiting some old favorites.

James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club has been a successful series of novels, a TV show and a series of casual mystery PC games before coming to the DS. The new Women’s Murder Club: Games of Passion seems designed for a casual DS gamer to tuck her into her purse, instead of a Patterson mystery novel. Most of WMC is played with the DS turned sideways, using the read-only screen to display a list of objects to find, instructions, or images to accompany the action in the interactive screen, which creates a book-like format for more of an interactive novel feel.

WMC follows the usual pattern of story cutscenes, hidden objects and minigames. The hidden objects casual adventure game is a pretty crowded genre, so it’s hard for a new game to really stand out. Probably the most unique characteristic was the James Patterson characters.  Players solve crimes and meet with the WMC ladies as Patterson’s detective Lindsay Boxer, and supporting characters with solid personalities made this more that just a reskinned HO game.

The story progresses via cutscenes and dialogue options. Players have some choices for what to say, but it was more of a quiz on recent plot events. Believable banter makes the cutscenes worth reading, and the linear storyline makes it feel like reading a novel, not being hemmed

Random side note: The mysterious Chinese markings found on the victim actually do say bu zhong, Not Loyal. My Chinese  literacy is just good enough to be completely thrilled with the developers for using real words when dramatic red scribbles would have acceptable. (It always cracks me up when I see upside-down characters or random other words.) Thanks, THQ.

A lot of the game was hidden objects, whether it was tidying a crime scene or looking for clues, but this was a particularly bad HO. The small DS screen doesn’t really lend itself to searching, and players search a picture that’s larger than the screen, for maximum squinting-at-the-screen annoyance. It was also the Highlights magazine type of hidden objects, instead of the cluttered-room HO. It felt oddly childish to look for giant peace signs and lightning bolts, especially on crime scenes with mysterious dead bodies. The game does mix up the hidden objects a bit by giving players a clue instead of a list of items, but still gives the feel of an activity book more than an adventure game.

The story leads to several minigames, which were much more engaging than the picture finding bit. I was pretty excited to see the game included a science lab minigame, and the puzzle’s gameplay didn’t disappoint. You guys, I love pretending I’m in a lab solving mysteries. I would play about a thousand of these games.

One of the minigames was a mah-jong game, which is also accessible under an icon that says China (This character is a different zhong than the one for loyal, an object lesson on why I am not so good at Chinese!). I usually consider mah-jong games to be computer solitaire 2.0, but I found something charming in the tiny tiles and stylus interface, and ended up playing this minigame more than I’d expected.

Women’s Murder Club: Crimes of Passion offers a solid storyline and characters from the popular novels to fans of the hidden objects mystery.

 

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Oddly Accurate Fairy Sim

Sims 3 Goals

My Sims’s goals are to talk about her  job, work on her novel, become a better writer (because writing skill is distinct from actually completing assignments, isn’t it?) and be worth $20,000.

In case you’re wondering if I’m going to outgrown making myself as a Sim now that I’m in my thirties, I’d like to point out that this time I’m a Fairy sim. I just got Sims 3: Supernatural, and I didn’t even finish reading what Fairies can do,  I chose it the instant I saw that Fairies spend several Sim-lifetimes as Young Adults, before they have to become Adults.

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4th and Goal 2015

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4th and goal 2015 logoFootball game 4th and Goal, a Flash game found on CrazyGames, has a revamp for 2015. There’s a surprising amount of strategy required, even on the easiest levels, making this a game with lots of replay value for football fans.

To begin playing 4th and Goal 2015, players first need to select a play style, either Championship, a single game, or a Playoff, a series of elimination games. Then you’ll pick your team colors. There are more team options in the playoffs, although the choice is just cosmetic and doesn’t seem to correspond to any particular NFL team. Players then set the game clock and game difficulty, from Rookie to Hall of Fame, to customize their game. With any setting, though, you’ll select plays and try to move the ball past your AI opponent. Use the arrow keys to run the ball and play defense, and W,A,S,D keys for offense. Space bar will let you snap the ball or do other special moves.

4thandgoal2014 mini

As you play your team, you’ll select which plays to run next, and see how your team does. Football fans will also be happy to check their stats from the games and know how they’re doing.

This game is from GlowMonkey and hosted on CrazyGames. Other games I’ve played on this site include Flash versions of 2048, expressionless vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing and Run 3. You can also play it right here:

[Here comes the game]

(From)

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Instagram

my archnemeisI’m really enjoying taking more photos, playing around with Instagram and Pixlr, and finding a good one to post here every week. It’s a good mental practice to keep my eyes open for small details of everyday life that are especially attractive or meaningful.

I didn’t expect to like Instagram so much, because my first impressions were of quasi-celebs holding expensive products, with associated affiliate link, of course, and loads of bathroom selfies. (I’m a selfie fan, just not a toilet-in-the-background fan). I’m finding interesting photostreams to follow, and discovering new sides of writer friends and colleagues.

keyboard frameI do wonder how some some users get more Instagram followers. Are they just amazing? Is it  a follow-for-follow kind of thing or judicious use of hashtags, or just living in a gorgeous place and taking photos?

Instagram’s not great for everything, mostly because it’s mobile-only. So it’s usually pretty awkward and unwieldy to put PC screenshots there, and I’m not sure if all my photos are necessarily improved with the square frame. I recently added Pixlr  for photoediting. You can add a border around a photo, without adding a filter, which is something I can’t make Instagram do for me. There are a bunch of Chinese New Year add-ons, with lanterns and good luck characters and so forth that kind of make me wonder if I really am too old for stickered Instagram photos.

Some information in this post was provided by SMMexpert.net

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Still Life With Alcohol

cocktail instagram
Lifehack: Eat small portions of diet food all day, so that you take one sip of the house cocktail, and are immediately hammered.

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The First Hero: Saving the World on a Grecian Urn

The First Hero, from BeGamer, is a short point-and-click adventure about a young champion on a Greek urn, I mean, a young champion in mythical Greece.

athene

You’re not, as far as I could tell, any particular mythological hero, just a young champion who uses his wits to win the shield of Athene and the helmet and spear of Hephaestus, even though I’m pretty sure Haephestus makes helmets for the GODS and not for random human champions. Nevermind, Zeus probably slept with his mom.

Aphrodite gives you the most beautiful woman in the world, which works about as well it usually does in Greek myth. Battle ensues.

Aphrodite, no! Not the most beautiful woman in the world!  Can't you reward me with cash?

Please, Aphrodite, can’t you just reward me with cash?

This is a littler browser game so a thousand ships are not required. Each scene is a simple point-and-click puzzlesolving adventure. It’s simplified enough that everything you need is on one screen (well, almost everything… keep your eyes open in the maze), and you can usually solve the puzzle with a little investigative clicking. If you do get lost in the labyrinth or killed by the hydra, you’ll get another chance to replay the scene.

the first hero

Hades kidnaps the young hero’s girlfriend, because that’s what happens when you have the most beautiful woman in the world,  and the player must descend to the underworld to get her back. I was planning to make a joke about Hades kidnapping the young hero’s girlfriend in revenge for stealing the helmet Heaphestus was about to give to Hades, so when my hero got to the underworld, and Hades actually said, yeah, bring me my helmet and we’ll talk, I laughed out loud.  You’re not actually trading in the helmet for your girl though, Hades is sending you on mission to find his invisible helmet. I’m sure that won’t be too hard to find…

The art is, of course, what attracted me to this game. Each scene is the distinctive terracotta and black of Greek pottery, with columns and meanders to set the scene, and the occasional white accents. I thought it might be a good educational game for the kids, but a certain goddess of love seems to have a bit of an aversion to wearing clothes.

The First Hero doesn’t take too long to complete, but every scene in this short browser adventure riffs on classical art and mythology.

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At IndieCade, Part 2

Ikeyboard frame ran into Nate, and then he ran into one of his friends, and introduced me.

“Oh, is your last name Stivison?” Nate’s friend asked.

“Yeah, it is.”

“You reviewed my game!”

I’m always so terribly nervous when that happens, and I was extra nervous, because I has no memory of this game when he said the title (No reflection on the quality of the game, more a reflection of my own awkwardness), but he pulled it up on his phone, and fortunately,  I’d written good things about it.

IndieCade is a good reminder that people actually read what I write.

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At IndieCade

phone story indiecade

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Not All YouTubers

Part of my work involves creating video content, managing the creation of video content from others, and building a friendly fan community around games, all for students ages 8-14. Sometimes, working on gaming videos really highlights how inappropriate and angry YouTube gamer culture can be. It ranges from telling everyone who doesn’t love a favorite game that they’re clueless noobs, all the way to telling specific women who don’t love a favorite game that you’re going to rape and kill them. Of course, #NotAllYouTubers. (I’d really like to be wrong about this, though, so if you know the secret password to find the polite and clever vloggers, do share it, ok?)

I definitely don’t mean that every single person who chooses vlogging as their outlet is toxic, clearly. But it’s difficult to find thoughtful games commentary in a sea of hostile vloggers, being loudly nasty about liking the wrong games, engaging with those games the wrong way, not being an arbitrary level of good enough at an arbitrary list of games, not deserving to be a gamer, etc., performing for a community who regularly appear from the ether to swear at each other in the comments. Sometimes I wonder if there’s so much of this angry and hostile content because that’s meeting some horrible inner  need.

But then one of my students will send me a game strategy video where he opens by saying it’s only his best strategy, and viewers may have another one, and theirs is probably good too, and I don’t feel so completely hopeless.

I went to an IndieCade talk yesterday, on Subverting Toxic Let’s Play Culture, from Matt Albrecht of the Fourplay show. All of IndieCade makes me feel like I’m among My People, from facemeeting my internet friends and meeting so many creative and brilliant strangers, and like I’m the little kid tagging along with the grownups, just from the sheer talent around me.

This talk was no exception, and I felt both like YEAH SOMEONE FINALLY SAID WHAT WE’RE ALL THINKING! and Man, I would never have figured that out… in rapid succession.  You can get Matt Albrecht’s presentation here, and if you’re interested in games criticism, or gaming communities, or building spaces to shares thoughts on games, it’s really worth looking at this presentation. I kind of want everyone to read it. Although, I tweeted the slide in which the Rooster Teeth community managers asks female fans what they’d like more of, and the ladies respond (predictably) with requests for more female talent and fewer rape jokes, and I was (predictably) told off for policing games…. Lots for me to think over after this presentation, as we work to make a fun, safe, and age-appropriate gaming community for our students.

This presentation, and the talks afterwards, have also given me a lot to think about to improve my own language when I write, since there are many small ways to be more inclusive of all readers and viewers.

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Raze 3

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raze 3 logo

Raze 3, a Flash game available on Crazy Games, is a simple scifi shooter for your browser. Players take on the role of a space marine, blasting around to save the world, and upgrading their gear for improved blasting.

Players can either play a quickmatch or follow a campaign. The campaign has a bit more story, but Raze 3 is more about jumping, dodging, and battling alien enemies, than detailed worldbuilding or character exposition.

raze3

Players use W, A, S, D or arrow keys to move around, while aiming with the mouse, to attack with their chosen weapon. Succeed in space blastery, and you’ll be able to upgrade your gear to battle tougher aliens, either through quick matches or on campaign.

There’s a pretty detailed system of weapons and upgrades, allowing for a great deal of character customization, especially for a simple browser game. Players can choose weapons, upgrades, and cosmetic customization for their avatar as well.

Raze 3 is available to play free on CrazyGames, like Shadow Kings, Painter’s Guild, Super Mario Flash, and, of course, Twilight Kissing. You can also play it right here:

[Here comes the game]

(From)

 

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Chestnut Street

chestnut street

This is Maeve Binchy’s last book, Chestnut Street. It’s a collection of short stories, most of which I read about an hour after I got it, but there are a couple left and I really don’t want to read them because then I’ll be finished.

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