Sunday, 1 February 2015

Times Tables

I have a vision of a school classroom, full of children, standing (why they're standing I don't know, but I imagine them standing), chanting in unison "TWO TWO'S ARE FOUR. THREE TWO'S ARE SIX. FOUR TWO'S ARE EIGHT..." and so on.

The UK Education Secretary has announced plans to ensure that all children are well grounded in the basics of English and Mathematics.  This all sounds good, I fully agree that by the time you leave school you ought to know how to do sums and read and write, and do all of these things correctly, because if you're going to apply for a job (or college, or university) you're going to be expected to have all these things sorted.

There was just one point of the news item that I read that sounds a bit questionable - I'm led to understand that the Education Secretary said "We will expect every pupil by the age of 11 to know their times tables off by heart"

I just wonder a little about how relevant times tables are, and whether they're actually the best way to educate kids about mathematics.  I was taught at home and whilst I certainly remember reading the times tables, I was always more comfortable working the sums out rather than having the sums drilled into me.

Before I wrote this, I thought to myself "What's 12 times 12?" - do I know it off my heart?  No.  But it isn't too tricky to work out - 12 times 10 is 120, plus 12, and plus another 12 - 144.

I think I'd be slightly reluctant to rely on my memory to spit out answers, certainly to the times tables that I'm less comfortable with - the sevens times table is probably the worst for me because to me there isn't an easily identifiable pattern to the numbers, so I have to work it out.  Most of the others I can either remember, for one reason or another, or I have little tricks to do the sums quickly.

Do you know your times tables?  Are there ones that you're stronger with than others?  Do you think it's better to know information by rote or to help equip children with the skills to solve problems?

As an aside, thanks to all that made contact regarding my proposed solo tabletop gaming series - I'm planning to do a pilot episode in the next week or two, and if it gets a good reception I'll look to put together a series.  Do feel free to comment with suggestions as to what game I should feature in the pilot!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Playing With Myself - thoughts?

Firstly, lets be topical - where's the snow?!?

Here in northern England we're supposed to have a good couple inches of snow by now, yet it's really not here.  A bit came down, but it hasn't settled, and all signs appear to be for a clear night tonight.  The Met Office continue to warn of snow, but I suspect, due it being relatively low ground where I live, that the most we'll get is a bit of rain and some ice to fall over on in the morning.  That said, they are suggesting that there might be a return of snow on Monday - we'll see what happens then.

Right then - I've been thinking.

My YouTube channel (and my blog too, for that matter) has been very quiet in the last few weeks.  I've had other things that I've needed to focus on, but also I've been struggling with ideas for videos.

Last night I had an idea for a tabletop gaming show - so basically card/board/dice games (but maybe I could include computer games too) - but the key is that I'm looking at single player games.  And I could call it "Playing With Myself".  So I could feature games like Patience and Solitaire, but I could try some other games - there are various sets of rules for playing Munchkin (one of my favourite games) solo, for example.  Or perhaps computer card games like Hearthstone, which although you play with someone else, the person is selected by the system, you don't need to have a friend available before you can play.

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments if you think it's a good idea or not, if you do like it are there any special games you think I should include.

Also, perhaps I need a better logo than this one!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Soft Play Adventures

I sometimes go to soft play centres.

Not, I hasten to say, by myself.  No, not at all, I take my son, mainly in an attempt to drain his seemingly endless levels of energy, so that perhaps later that day, for a minute or two, he might sit still instead of climbing onto my shoulders and attempting to yank my head clean off my neck.

If you haven't been to a soft play centre, it's basically a huge carpeted industrial unit full of padded scaffolding with slides and things that kids can climb up, slide down, plastic balls to throw, and essentially create various opportunities for them to hurt each other.  It's like a cheerful version of Gladiators.

Now when you get there, rule number one is SHOES ARE THE ENEMY.  No shoes.  You get in there, you pay your money, and you pin your child to the ground - who has spotted a multicoloured slide and now has a burning ambition to throw balls up it - to allow you to remove their shoes so that they can be released like a greyhound after a plastic rabbit.

You might entertain thoughts that the soft play centre could even be a place to relax.  There's a very nice cafe.  You can order sandwiches, or pizza, or cake, drinks (even beer).  Perhaps you take a newspaper in, and just glance every few seconds to see which child your child is terrorising (or to shout at any kids terrorising yours).

But no.

At some point, you will have to enter the happy scaffolding maze of doom, because your child will decide that:
a) They don't want to leave (and it's time to go),
b) They are tired and have gone to sleep somewhere in the structure, or
c) They are crying because they've been hit in the face by a swinging foam weight and need a hug.

You're acutely aware that you're too old to go in the structure. "UNDER SEVENS ONLY" the sign states and you attempt to perform various manoeuvres a gymnast would think twice about carrying out, in an effort to reach the distant location of your child.

You're probably readjusting your clothing as it rides up/down, unaccustomed to the strains that you're placing upon it.  If you're me, there's a fair chance that your socks have one, or more, unwanted holes in, clearly showing yourself to all to be an unfit parent.  And there is a significant chance that you'll get somewhere close to your child, only to discover a plastic mesh wall between you, and you have to double back to find another route.

Eventually, you get there, aching and tired - how do kids run around these things more than once? - and your son will sit up, smile at you, and run off, forcing you to go down the big slide by yourself, pretending to maintain your dignity while secretly enjoying the brief return to childhood.

And while other children throw plastic balls at you.

I love going to soft play.

PS - Thank you to everyone who has viewed this blog, we've passed the 600,000 view mark which is awesome indeed!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Things that are wrong...

How many of the items below do you agree are wrong?

1) Pizza with fruit on
2) Quiche with tuna
3) The Star Trek reboot (in particular, the destruction of Vulcan which eliminates the timeline of all of the previous Star Trek series - except Star Trek:Enterprise)
4) Bovril (non-granular)
5) Bovril (all forms, even granular)
6) People skipping forward in supermarket queues when a new till opens
7) The acting in "The Librarians"
8) The expression "YOLO!"
9) Overly gelled hair
10) Putting cushions on a bed so that when you actually want to go to bed you have to take the cushions off before you sleep in it.  And having to put them back on when making it.
11) Opening curtains in a morning in a room (such as the bedroom) that you aren't going to inhabit all day, until you return on an evening, and the first thing you do is close the curtains.

I have issues with 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, and 11.  Let me know in the comments if you agree with me, which you think are wrong, or if I've missed something obvious please let me know.

In other news, if you missed taking part in my 2015 predictions video, you have another chance to ask questions!  The Chinese New Year is on February 19th and I'll be doing more predictions with fortune cookies, so let me know your questions you would like answering then!  Get them in the comments or email me at mike dot raven at gmail dot com

Finally, I watched Into The Woods a week or so back, and did a review of it, do feel free to watch.  In short - where does it say in the trailer that it's a musical?!?  Be warned though - the video includes me singing.

I'm very sorry.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

TableTop Day 2015 is coming!

TableTop Day 2015 is coming!

As can (just about) be seen from the fairly blurry photo of my calendar, International TableTop Day is on Saturday the 11th of April 2015.  Make sure you free up the day to play games, be they board or card, with your friends and family - or perhaps go to an event at a local games shop.  Keep an eye on and remember - play more games!

I'd love to hear if you're planning to take part what games you're going to play.  On my shortlist is Cards Against Humanity and Munchkin - I have the special TableTop expansion for Cards Against Humanity in return for helping to fund season 3 of TableTop, hence:

And in other news, I made a fortune telling video of predictions for 2015 - if you'd like to see the fortune told in response to my fiancee asking "Am I going to get pregnant in 2015" skip along to 11:32. Fortunately she found it funny.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2015 is coming...

So you read this, 2014 is either about to end, or has ended. (that pretty much covers everyone, except possibly for Doctor Who)

How's your year been?  Apparently this year I was going to lose weight and hit the gym, which didn't really happen (give or take maybe half a dozen pounds).  So, I've got a bit of a list for the next year:

  • Lose weight - I'm aiming to get down to 15 stone, through those wonderful things, diet and exercise.
  • Play more tabletop games - I want to try to organise to at least play board or card games once a month, I love playing tabletop games, it's an inexpensive way to have fun with friends and family, so I'm going to try to sort this out.
  • Increase views of my blog and videos - I did set myself a challenge of 600k blog views by the end of the month (looks like it'll be about 573k) and 14k video views (and I'm on 13,415) so they haven't quite got there.  I'm struggling, as I suspect many people do, with engaging readers.  By all means, if people have any suggestions as to blogs or videos that they'd like to see, or maybe they'd like to do a guest blog/vlog, let me know.

Longer term I also have the following ambitions:
  • Learn to swim - no, I can't swim.  Neither can I ride a bike, but I have a car so I don't see that being a big issue. However there is a possibility that I could drown, and a car would be particularly unhelpful in a drowning situation.
  • Study at Oxford or Cambridge (preferably Cambridge).  I'm not talking actually going there, as much as I'd love to, but perhaps a distance learning or online course, or even a short residential course (they do concentrated weekend courses on subjects).  I am a bit of a snob perhaps, a lot of people that I admire studied at those universities and whilst I can't see myself being able to get there to study a full degree or anything, some sort of study programme at one of the two would be great.
  • Visit the USA and Canada.  Over the last few months I've been doing a lot of reading about these countries, and I would love to visit them, perhaps on some sort of long holiday (2-3 weeks maybe).  There's so many places in both countries that I'd like to visit that I can't see us doing everywhere in one trip, but perhaps we could break it down over a number of years.

Do you have any plans for 2015 or new years resolutions?  Drop me a comment and let me know.

I should say that I will be doing my 2015 predictions video imminently (possibly tomorrow morning if I get chance, otherwise it'll be New Years Day), so if you do have a question about your 2015 that you want including on the video, do let me know asap, get it in the comments.

And before I finish, New Years Eve is coming!  I've done a video of advice, covering phones, taxis, and even signing Auld Langs Syne.  Be warned - if you listen carefully near the end you can hear a child counting monsters.

Happy new year!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Adventures in Wesnoth

Recently I've been hideously addicted to an open source adventure game, Battle for Wesnoth.

Here's my team exploring some caves.  Tip for you - elves are rubbish in caves.  Which is a shame because they own pretty much anywhere else.
Battle for Wesnoth is an open source, turn based strategy game, which plays as a RPG/adventure.  I've been working my way through the first campaign, Heir to the Throne, where I'm trying to take the throne of Wesnoth which is rightfully mine.  The campaign is made up of a huge amount of individual scenarios that you have to get through, but they aren't all just "fight the enemy and win", many are searching for a particular thing (an item, an exit etc) and just trying to survive until you find it.
The great thing about the game is that if you can keep your troops alive, you can take them from battle to battle, gaining experience and better abilities over time.  As I've played I've learned to put my best troops in the second wave, with the first wave just there to explore and to soften up the enemy - and to take attacks, while the experienced guys hide at the back, waiting for their moment to strike.  It's not particularly honourable but who cares!

There's a lot of map screens like this.  Inevitably they mean that there's some bad guys to pound.
The game comes with fifteen campaigns of varying sizes, but you can also download more campaigns, maps, and other addons for free.  There is also an ability to play the game multiplayer, but I've not tried that yet so can't comment.

I've found the Sceptre of Fire.  This means nothing to you but I've been looking for this thing for about a week.

In short it's a good game, with loads of content, and it is definitely well worth a look.  Find out more at

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