Emergent Gameplay

One of my professors just sent me a sweet message saying how great my essay grades have been recently and to keep up the hard work. I don’t want to be a jerk after such a kind note, but a couple weeks ago, I noticed she was grading our essays on the quality of citations. Since that realization, I’ve started including one more citation than the assignment requirements, stopped stressing about organization and clarity, and started getting 100s and 99s on everything I turn in.

BuriedTown Review on Hardcore Droid

I have a new post up over on Hardcore Droid:

In BuriedTown, you are a lone survivor after the rise of the zombies, looting what you can to build up your home. You’ll need to get a weapon, maybe some armor, and start building upgrades to your shelter, while keeping an eye on food, health and rest meters. BuriedTown does innovate on the formula by adding a bacteria meter as well. This is would be a legitimate concern in the zombie apocalypse, with all the contaminated food, water and undead-induced injuries. It adds realism, even if it doesn’t do much for gameplay, because a stomach bug simulator isn’t exactly the drama, puzzles, or escapism I’m looking for in games. Virus, bacteria, and infection are used interchangeably in the game, so don’t overthink it (like I did).

The minimalist graphics blend clean, simple icons with black-and-white stock photography. It’s a great look, monochrome with occasional splashes of red, stark and dark without being gory. As I gathered materials, food, and the occasional weapon, I spent a lot of time running back and forth, because you need so much stuff to build improvements, but you have only a little-bittie carrying capacity. You can upgrade it, for a price, but I’ll get to that later. Each location is measured in hours from your home, and if you’re out after dark, the frequency of zombie attacks increases. Plus, you’ll need to rush home to sleep and eat (you can only eat in the apartment. Apparently I’ll eat found cans of meat, but only at my kitchen table).

Source: BuriedTown Review | Hardcore Droid

Language Acquisition or Whatever

level 4 hahahaMe taking HSK practice exams: Yeah! 加油! Go me! I’m so good at Chinese!

Me listening to native Mandarin at natural speed: Uh, what?  慢说. 我说的不好。

 

Right now, I’m studying the vocabulary for the HSK 1 exam. A lot of Chinese-language learners are questioning whether HSK is just character memorization with no practical application. Some see it as fairly meaningless bit of paper that tests how well one studied for the HSK, rather than a real reflection of Mandarin ability. From the practice exams I’ve done, a large part of the HSK exam really is testing how well you take vocabulary tests, a bit like the verbal SATs, circa 1990s. So I can look for familiar radicals and make a smart guess, which is an entirely different skill from a real second-language conversation.

Mandarin ability is such a slippery concept. Is it ability to have a simple conversation in Chinese? What if I’m just listening for key words and not actually understanding all of it? Ability to read a menu? Read the paper? Follow a TV show? Write legibly? Type in Chinese? Gain enough fluency with standard Mandarin you can understand local dialects? Use a radical dictionary?

I don’t think exams and GPAs are necessarily good metrics of ability, but I recognize that other people do care about grades and stuff. My applied Mandarin got me through 2.5 years of second-language life, so now I think I want to increase my vocabulary from survival words and earn a more formal qualification.  If I look for another job in China, I don’t think anyone will nearly as impressed with “successfully reordered drinking water” as they will be with a passed exam. I hope I get a certificate with a cool red stamp.

 

Skillsets and the Tarzan Yell

course topics teachingI interviewed for a great short-term teaching job the other day. I’m torn between OMG IT’S SO INTERESTING!!! I COULD LEARN SO MUCH THERE!!! and a more responsible worry that I need to stop grabbing interesting gigs and start planning steps to grow a proper career. I’m not going to be thirtysomething forever, you know, someday I’ll have to grow up.

Now, I love teaching and teenagers, but there’s something about teaching interviews that always irks me. I’m always asked a hypothetical scenario. What would you do if a student is aggressive, openly defiant, swinging from the fluorescent lights doing a Tarzan yell? (Note: one of these may be a slight exaggeration to express how far-fetched these are) Even though this happens every time, I never know how to answer these scenarios because there are so many stages before this happens. There are so many ways with teenagers to read moods and understand and ask the right questions and gently let teenage students tell you that they’re feeling like they want to swing from the lights doing a Tarzan yell, that it seems almost ridiculous to ignore it and let it fester until the problem’s wildly out of control.

Ask me what I’d do when 30 students giggle whenever they hear English spoken. Ask me what I’d do when my class of 5 6-year-olds becomes a class of 20 15-year-olds. Ask me what I’d do when the room stares at me in confusion over my fullspeed English. Ask me what I’d do when no girl students feel comfortable raising their hands if a boy has his hand up. Ask me what I’d do when a student cries in class. Because these, my friends, are what I can handle.

#BurrusBlog on Technology


burrus blogBurrus Blog is a popular new tech blog by Daniel Burrus discussing innovation and technology, published on LinkedIn. Recent topics include the rise of VR technologies, tech innovation, password security, apps, successful entrepreneurship, and other topics around technology. The blog updates on Tuesdays and Thursdays, always with news and ideas on technology trends. You can follow it on LinkedIn or follow the #burrusblog hashtag to see the latest updates.

This information was provided in partnership with Burrus Blog.

Book Review: Matriarch

matriarchMatriarch: An Australian Novel of Love and War by Geoffrey Hope Gibson tells the story of five generations of one family.

The family saga begins when the son of a no-longer-wealthy British family arrives at a distant post in the Outback, and falls in love with an Aboriginal woman. (Well, there’s also a lot about the family members back home in England, and how they relate to their new Australian grandchild, and what’s really happened to all their wealth, but the Australian family begins here. Good family sagas sometimes have no real beginning and no ending, just like real families.) I didn’t know all that much about native Australians going in, besides a vague concept of walkabouts, and this novel described both daily aboriginal life and how terribly the original inhabitants were treated by colonists, and then by the Australian government. The story shows this on an individual level, as well as on a national scale.

The descriptions of Outback life were very matter-of-fact, whether it was a description of food found in the bush or of aboriginal religion. I liked that it wasn’t overly exoticized, since the author manages to avoid portraying native Australians as “other” even while explaining customs and activities that were entirely new to me.

The story covers family relationships, both loving and tense, over several generations. After a while I began to see children and grandchildren inheriting their parents’ traits.The narration and point-of-view change between characters, which helps add to the feeling of family stories, but it can been a little jarring when the story switches perspective. There’s also a huge cast of characters. Definitely not a dealbreaker, but I did find myself flipping back now and then to confirm how characters were related. (This is not unlike hearing family stories at a holiday dinner table, and trying to work out whether that’s an aunt or a great-aunt.)

Overall, this is a sweeping family epic in gorgeous surroundings.

I received a copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own, as always, because even free books can’t restrain my snark. 

There Is No TBR List

kissy vampire booksThere are a lot of annual reading challenges going around now, like reading 52 books this year, or reading more works by female authors. (My personal reading challenge is to write and post more reviews of what I’m reading, and to remember who recommended particular books to me.) A lot of the challenges include reading a book that’s been on your To Be Read list or on your shelf.

I… don’t know what that means. The whole concept of a TBR list, owning books I mean to read but haven’t gotten around to reading, doesn’t really happen for me. If I own a book, I’ve read it. Actually, if someone else in my house owns a book, I’ve probably read it. If a book is let sitting around near me, I’ve probably read it. If someone leaves a book in the building’s laundry room while I’m doing laundry, I’ve read it.

Anyway, I haven’t read every book I want to read, so I kind of have a TBR list. It’s books that friends (or NPR) have recommended, or books that other books reference, or just novels that look interesting, and I want to buy (or borrow) and read. What about you? Do you have a TBR list of books you already own and mean to read? Or is your TBR list all books you want to get your hands on?

Monetize Your Blog With Sverve

sverveMy friend Heather over at Mess To Beautiful and some other NC blogger friends were talking recently about blog monetization and affiliate programs. I’m not really hardcore about monetizing my site, sometimes I remember to add my Amazon affiliates code to reviews, in case anyone wants to buy the book or game. Overall, this is more a personal outlet than an income, but I do like doing sponsored reviews. I’ve signed up with a couple blogger networks, like Sverve. (Look, I remembered to include my affiliate link in case if you want to sign up with Sverve too,) Sverve is mostly for bloggers, but influencers on Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter or other channels can sign up too. Sverve works with brands for sponsored posts or sponsored shares on other social networks. Users can pick their opportunities, and don’t have to accept any work with any unappealing brands.

While there’s some variation in the rates that different brands offer bloggers, Sverve pays a reasonable fee for reviews. The longer I have my blog, the more spam I get offering me the exciting opportunity to organize, promote, and host a Twitter party where I could maybe possibly win free products, or to write unpaid articles that could be featured on the brand’s site for exposure, or other ways I can do marketing work for free. But Sverve pays money for work and visibility, and they pay on time.

My only (minor) complaint is that the brands and opps are a bit more mommyblog than my site is. I’m only really looking for book and game review opportunities now (Unless you represent a glitter nail polish brand, in which case, I’m totally in!), so not all of the campaign offers on Sverve are really right for me.

Anyway, if you’re looking for way to monetize your blog with sponsored posts, you can try Sverve.

 

Learning Chinese In Carrboro

chinese boardI’ve been taking Chinese classes at Chicle Language Institute at night, and really getting a lot out of it. (This is not a sponsored or requested post at all, I’m linking the language center’s site because I had a hard time finding a Mandarin class in Carrboro. And when I did find Chicle, I hesitated a bit before investing so much money in a language class without hearing from any other students.)

There are a lot of unique challenges with teaching Mandarin to foreigners. Chinese teachers rarely hear foreigners speaking Chinese, so there can be a whole lot of ni de zhong wen shi hen hao! to wade through before receiving any constructive feedback. Also, in general Chinese people don’t expect foreigners to speak Mandarin, and it’s not a great classroom experience to have the teacher giggle whenever a language student uses the target language. (This did create a bond with some of my coworker-classmates at Yangzhou Global IELTS, so it wasn’t a complete loss.)

Plus, with traditional characters, simplified, pin yin, and Wades-Giles, pretty much whichever way you’re writing the word is wrong.

My class at Chicle was effective because my spoken Mandarin improved a lot over this class. I know classroom Chinese is much slower and clearer than everyday Chinese, but I’m still happy with the improvement in my comprehension. Our teacher was really great about speaking slowly, with a nice clear Beijing accent (the Beijing television presenter accent, not the Beijing cabbie/pirate accent). My understanding continues to outstrip what I can actually say, though. This was a fairly frustrating situation in Yangzhou, when I was often able to understand what others said to me, but lacked the ability to explain what I thought. Except in the lesson on ordering food, of course, because I can rock some restaurant Chinese.

I had to psyche myself up for the first couple of lessons — You’re paying this teacher to correct you, Meg! Start making some mistakes! — but after a bit I felt less nervous speaking.  I didn’t focus all that much on writing during this class. I barely ever handwrite anything in English, and typing in Chinese is just based on knowing the pin yin, you don’t even need tone marks, and recognizing characters from the list of homonyms. So I devoted most of my time and effort to speaking and listening, and taking advantage of having my grammar corrected and the correct usage clearly explained.

Res Gestae, 2015

At Christmas time last year, I was working at Youth Digital, and really enjoying my work, with no expectations that anything would change in the near future. I felt like all my varied skills as an educator, game reviewer, tech journo, and game developer all came together in this perfectly tailored role. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand what happened there, but after hearing about a massive round of pre-Christmas layoffs, and reading a scathing LinkedIn review, I’m less invested in unraveling the mystery. I was part of something cool, while it was cool, and that’s what I want to remember most from my years there.

This spring, I started taking a couple classes towards maybe, kinda, sometime getting my masters, and that sucked up a lot of my evenings and weekends, and I mostly hated it. One nice thing was taking and acing a statistics course, and being reminded that math is not particularly hard for me. Everything about our education system forces us to identify as words people or numbers people, science or creative, and no overlap allowed. So I must be a humanities person because I love fiction and writing and history so much. But I also really enjoy math and coding assignments, and it was quite satisfying to do these assignments.

Next, I’ve got to come up with a personal statement, and source some recommendation letters, and general paperwork stupidity. I make fun of my process-oriented husband a bit, sometimes I call him Capt. Action Plan or ask if he’s secretly a Vulcan, but before meeting Harold, I would never have taken on something with so many steps and so much paperwork. Because, yuck.

This summer, I went to Yangzhou Global IELTS on a summer teaching contract. A certain amount of my motivation was lying awake, night after night, stressing about what I’m doing with my life. But let’s skip over that, and focus on what a wonderful experience Yangzhou turned out to be! I stumbled into a great group of expat friends, my Mandarin was stronger this time, and my ability to roll with last-minute changes came right back. I remembered that, oh, yeah, I’m pretty good at this expat life. In Yangzhou, I spent a lot of time writing, both for editors and for myself, and I experimented with some classroom games. Also, I’m now experienced enough to call this “refining my educational methods” and not “trying out new games on a captive audience.” Progress, maturity, etc.  I spent my days off wandering over carved bridges and along the canals of the this ancient city, and ducking into gleaming, air-conditioned Starbucks to escape the steamy heat. Thank you, Yangzhou.   

When I came home from China, I took some part-time work in a Chinese restaurant, which worked out better than I could have imagined.  You guys, I know so many good Mandarin insults now!

My poor husband, who loves routine and security, and is always strained by changes and upheaval (I realize that this is just a few paragraphs down from telling you that I was sad, so I went to China alone for a few months to feel better. Harold and I don’t always see the world the same way), has just started his third job of 2015. This is a good opportunity for Harold, and hopefully will be a long-term position for him. This time it’s in Boston, which is no New York City, but I shouldn’t complain too much about moving to my second-favorite city. I’m looking forward to being back in Boston, even if a Massachusetts winter isn’t always a delight. After making the best of things in North Carolina for a while, I’m so happy to be back in a city.

My NYR is, as it alway is, to write more and publish more this year that I did last year.

Crazygames Review: Fleeing The Complex

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fleeingthecomplexFleeing The Complex by Puffballs United, on CrazyGames, is another ridiculous stick figure adventure. The premise is that the sticky-fingered stickman from the previous games has gotten arrested for his crimes in games like Stealing the Diamond and Infiltrating the Airship. Naturally, he doesn’t want to stay in prison, and he needs to break out!

Players take on the role of a stick figure who’ll need to use ridiculous objects like whoopee cushions and helium balloons to escape the complex. Like the other stick figure adventures, you’ll pick one option, and then watch to see if it goes well, or blows up in your face. Each option is silly, and plenty of them riff on RPG elements. There’s no real strategy involved in choosing, but that’s not the point. This isn’t a game about escaping safely or being clever or applying tools wisely. It’s a lighthearted game about silly options and sillier consequences for those options. There are also strange and silly achievements to discover, usually when getting your protagonist killed off in new ways.

Fleeing the Complex is a quick game, available to play free in your browser (or right here!). It doesn’t take very long, and it’s good for a laugh at the adventurous stick-figure’s antics. I’m sure that there will be another installment of the stick figure thief’s adventures after he’s fled the complex successfully.

Fleeing The Complex is currently available on CrazyGames, along with plenty of other Flash games like puzzle game 2048, and evil twin game 2584, secret vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.

[Here comes the game]

Source: Crazy Games

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North Carolina’s Still Awful, But In A Slightly Different Way

The citizens of Woodland, N.C. have spoken loud and clear: They don’t want none of them highfalutin solar panels in their good town. They scare off the kids. “All the young people are going to move out,”warned Bobby Mann, a local resident concerned about the future of his burg. Worse, Mann said, the solar panels would suck up all the energy from the Sun.

Ars Technica’s hilarious headline for this story, North Carolina Citizenry Defeat Pernicious Big Solar Plan to Suck Up the Sun, is genius. On one level, this is a good laugh at dumb southerners who don’t know basic science. The whole thing really reads like an Onion piece.

But when you look further into this story, it’s less about stupid rednecks fearing technology, and more about a couple of very wealthy people who don’t want a solar farm to ruin the view from their homes, convincing the rest that solar panels are what causes all their problems, from cancer to lack of jobs. There’s a lot of North Carolina involved in this story, from playing-rural in oversized McMansions with A/C and pretty views of the countryside, to a general belief that anything scientific is just a theory, to threatening a population with the struggles of high unemployment with the fear of jobless ghost towns, to a history of contamination and coverups like Duke Energy’s coal ash spill, and ok, sure, rednecky fear of change might be part of it too. But the end result is a couple insanely selfish people working hard to make sure we don’t improve anything here.

And that’s what I really hate about North Carolina.

Book Review: Anonymous

anonymousHarold really likes a certain type of supernatural reality shows. Like most “reality” TV, these follow a reliable format. A young couple moves into a creepy old house. The wife begins to notice odd things and express concerns to her husband, who says she’s imagining things before heading off to work. Paranormal activity intensifies, with the kids speaking in tongues and the furniture flying around the house, and at the end of the episode, the husband admits that maybe something was going on after all.

The beginning of Anonymous was like a great Ghost Show episode. The young couple moves to a creepy old farmhouse, and the wife starts seeing creepy things. She also has her own demons; with a family history of schizophrenia, she’s unwilling to tell others about what she’s seen and experienced.  Then, there’s a neighbor family down the road with more secrets the possibility that the ghost is a murderer. Or two murderers. Or our heroine is crazy. And different characters keep pointing out that since it’s so rural, there’s no police force to call. It wass a really intriguing opening for a scary novel.

This novel had a lot of variation in quality. There were definitely moments with a great tension, but a lot of the secondary characters seemed to walk in, narrate the next piece of plot exposition, and walk out. Some items seems so cliche that they felt like Macguffin placeholders for something more natural. (A tragically dying mom made custom matching amulets for siblings separated at birth… which appear at really, really convenient times.)

Other times, I found myself rereading scenes thinking I’d missed something, because the characters actions were so bizarre. (A married woman gets anonymous letters from someone who describes watching her in her house. She decides the best way to handle it is to go to the bar at the time her stalker suggests, but first she tells her notoriously rage-y husband that she’s heading out to see the guy who writes her dirty letters. I understand this course of action on exactly zero levels.)

Overall, I mostly felt like I was reading a rough draft of what could become a really good thriller. I think I’d like to read the finished version. 

 

I received a copy of this novel to review. Opinions are, as always, my own.

 

In ‘A Dark Room’

a torch to keep the dark awaySomeone on social media recommended A Dark Room, which sounded great, but I promptly forgot about it. So, thank you, whichever friend suggested this!

I love text-based adventures, probably because I can never decide if I like reading books or playing games more. Doublespeak Games’ A Dark Room opens in, well, a dark room, and most of the story is conveyed in text descriptions, with a resource table. But that format adds to the mystery, rather than interfering with it.

A lot of this game relies on countdown meters, which is one of my least favorite mechanics. Normally, I would roll my eyes and give forth a long rant about designing click-and-wait games, but by the time I realized that clicking to stoke the fire wasn’t just a lead into the starting the game, but actually a core mechanic of the game, the worldbuilding had me hooked. I found scattered teeth in the traps we set, which was enough of a hook for creepiness and for a crafting mechanic that I kept playing.

There was a certain amount of click-and-wait involved, at least until my villagers were producing enough resources that I could tab over to my homework, content that essentials like cured meat and leather were being produced at acceptable rates. Resource management is key to A Dark Room. Once you have some huts, the game’s about taking care of your villagers, so they’ll take care of your resources. Manage hunting, trapping, curing meat, feeding that meat to your iron miners, mining enough iron to make a nice iron sword, and wait, is that a laser rifle lying around in the forest? What’s that doing here? I better investigate…

There’s a lot to discover in this deceptively simple game. All the slightly-off bits of descriptive text add up to a surprising and satisfying ending.

You can get Doublespeak Games’ A Dark Room on iOs or play it n your browser.

Essential Chinese: He Has Already Paid

lucky buddhaI’ve started working a couple days a week at a Chinese restaurant near my house. Now, I’ve complained a great deal about how freaking slow everything is in the south, but that’s working in my favor as I earn endless praise for being mildly efficient at a job that is, objectively speaking, not difficult. Mostly I take phone orders for takeout, and ring up, although I serve a little bit if it gets busy. Also, the American “service with a smile” is bullshit. Fortunately, I work for a Chinese family, who don’t have much interest in employee nametags, dress codes, or obsequious customer service. Here’s your delicious food. Eat it. Here’s your correct change. Take it. Bye.

On one hand, it’s a delight to have free gung bao ji ding, daily Chinese language practice, and a couple hours of downtime between lunch and dinner to study. With my classes going on, it’s not bad to have a job that I needn’t think about outside of work, and where the requirements are basically shower and turn up on time. On the other hand, I had hoped to be doing something a bit more prestigious than food service by my thirties…

When I took the job, I expected to be more helpful with my Chinese, since my strongest vocab involves food, but it turns out that wildly different regional accents and the fast pace restaurant service make it too hard for my baby Mandarin to keep up. I can help out with the occasional request for mai dan or da bao, but besides that, my Chinese skills haven’t been much benefit to the restaurant. (Unless you count the amusement the rest of the staff gets from my toneless Mandarin… and they have stopped ni de zhongwen hen hao! and started telling me I sound like a idiot.)

The advantage has gone the other way, and working here has been really beneficial for my language learning. Learning Chinese in a classroom is usually being told to memorize something, and then repeat it back to the teacher. There is no variation or application of material, just recitation of the assigned sentences. A dialogue will always begin with ni hao because that’s how the book has it.  In real life, a person could open a conversation with hello, good morning, nice day isn’t it?, where do I catch the 6 from here?, or watch out, your shoelace is untied. I just don’t have the Chinese skills for that.

But in the restaurant, there are limited common conversations, with some variations. For example, a lot of my job involves handing people their takeout orders (Oh! And I can read the Chinese dishes on the receipts! Food vocab and a limited number of possible options!) and ringing up customers, so I regularly hear and use ta ge chien le ma? (has he/she already paid?) and the answer ge le. or ta bu ge le. The repetition and all the slight variations of usage really make this ideal circumstances for language acquisition.

Also, Mandarin swearing. You guys, I have learned so many different insults and swears! This is a great job!