Monday, 10 December 2018

The difficulties of profitable, good value, event photography.

I know how difficult it is to get a good shot at an event, this weekend, I was at an event where we took around 500 images in 2 and a half hours and 2/3 of these were not used.
It's easier where there are more photographers 'camped' but this increases costs. Once ISO, Aperture and shutter have been set up, the 'camped' photographer can wait and capture images quickly and efficiently.  Here I was adjusting all of those settings on the fly for different light, poses and action shots (clarity over quick focus/fast shutter) a real challenge, but a rewarding one as the images we got, for the most part, I'm happy with.

But there are a number of things I really dislike about current event photography set ups*.
Firstly, the all round cost for participants and photographers.
(*Ignoring the issue that a number of event photographers look like eyesores in tatty jeans, unkempt beards and old T-Shirts).

The session we ran was a specific photography afternoon, the cost a simple £10 for all who attended, with a view to obtaining great images. While shots weren't guaranteed, we did our utmost to get enough images of all of the participants. This isn't the first time I've run a set up like this and the organisers seem keen to do it again with another group and were delighted with the images we provided. Almost all event photography is costed, whether it's a one off specific photography event, (like this one) or a competition, so it's only right, if the photographers are there providing a (difficult) service, then they should be appropriately paid. The reasons why the costs for prints at events are usually so high, is because it's pretty much commission only. Plus they need expensive, on site printing equipment.

Normal event photography though see's a small % of images used or sold. The wealthier participants get to select, one, two, three or four images, that they can have for costs around £15 and up to well over £50. Memory pens are usually reasonably priced, but putting the images on is prohibitively high. This is a real shame as the participants make the event, they wouldn't even have these images if they weren't performing.

Nevertheless, I appreciate photographers need to make a living, and there isn't a viable alternative to the current business model.

So with 181 images that we cut our afternoons work down to, here's how I'd like the participants to own them.

FREE - All of them. Yup, I know, that seems ridiculous. But all of the parents have already paid to be a part of the session and the photographer should have been paid for his or her time. Participants have taken a punt by allowing the session to go ahead. I'll sift out the poor focus, poor quality images, but crop, edit and upload them. They get the digital copies gratis. But there should be the opportunity for those participants who want quality images printed, for the photographer to make some extra income.

So here's the problem. Parents use PC's, iPhones, Android phones and Macbooks. Finding a way to easily upload and share the images. While protecting the privacy, and letting the parents order additional prints if they want, easily, isn't currently a realistic expectation.

A few have tried, but all of the solutions fall foul of the ideal solution by some margin. First, lets consider what a photographer would need and how would the business model for the provider might look.
  • A free to use non subscription service (like Google Photos, Instaproofs, etc). 
  • Password protected albums (like several offer already)
  • Easy downloads for the digital copies (non copyrighted)
  • Easy sharing on social media (like Instaproofs)
  • Easy order process for high quality prints/products for the end user 
  • Competitive pricing for the customer
  • A percentage of the income for the photographer, who is generating extra business for the printer. 
Although all of the above is available from one provider or another nothing out there at the moment ticks all of the boxes. I appreciate that the above model means people could download, upload to a competitor and perhaps save some money, but how many parents have the know how, time, or inclination to be bothered? With a smooth order process for a competitively priced product, surely the average user would click. Or perhaps digital downloads could be medium, not maximum resolution, meaning the product would look better via the original provider?

I'm sure, soon, someone will develop a platform that will allow event photography to blossom. But for now, it's slightly elitist as many parents simply can't afford or justify the outlay for prints.

Flickr is no use as it doesn't allow photo ordering and you can only share folders with friends and family who already have yahoo accounts. And who wants a Yahoo account now it's 2018? Plus they're soon going to reduce the allowance from 1Tb to 1000 images!

Instaproofs - This one came the closest, but it's still flawed. The interface was lovely to use and the album options superb. But downloading images was convoluted. Parents will want to push/hold on their iphones to save to device, but that's not possible. Right click on computers is disabled too.

Vistaprint - besides the barrage of promo messages on ordering. I'd have thought these would be the first. But no. Creating albums isn't possible. Only creating products from previously, personally loaded images, is possible.

Smugbug is subscription only.

Photobucket gets close, but they have grotesque click-bait adverts all over the place. The interface is also very dated. It's not very professional.

Dropbox doesn't allow for photo ordering, or password protecting folders, but it's a sound platform for sharing.

500px is download only and all public, although the interface is very modern.

Canon Irista - Offers no hard copy orders. Very limited functionality.

Google Photos - Shared albums is messy. No option to order hard copies.

SmugMug is subscription only after the free trial.

iCloud is utterly useless as Folder sharing isn't possible.

Amazon Prime photos, needs amazon prime subscription.

Imgur no hard copies - too much like Instagram, no albums.

TinyPic - Hosting only, clickbait adverts.

Image shack - no ordering.

So I've exhausted all of my options. Many of the above options allow for free permanent hosting, with no way of generating income. Merging the free hosting solution, with an ability to password protect albums AND order hard copies of photos, even if the storage for 'event' specific albums was time limited (or just limited - for the photographer to manage the space) would empower a new era of event photography fit for current times and open up a whole new world of possibilities for clubs, participants, photographers parents and online digital photo resellers.

Do you know of a service that offers the above? If so drop me a line and let me know.










Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Article 13 - The EU have messed up.

Rough Cuts make video content for others to enjoy. We also make commercial videos as well as videos for local schools that are creative and fun.
You Tube is our number 1 sharing platform for these, we can create private videos, unlisted videos or public and we can choose whether it's ok or not ok to use copyrighted material. For anything commercial it really isn't ok. We respect that, it's part of our T&C's and with the exception of one client, for the most part, so do our customers.

But occasionally, sometimes, for non-commercial videos, someone else's song has to be used.

Case in point, in the week before last, I helped Ysgol Maesglas create a video. They raised over £200 for Children in Need and created a video to celebrate it in their school assembly. The song for Children in Need is Jamie Cullen's "Love is in the picture". For the video, the children held their drawings up in front of the camera and told us what they loved, for the most part this was their family. (Although if you look carefully, you might see Fortnite on one of the drawings!)


We were really pushed for time, we grabbed the footage in 45 minutes, and over the weekend, I stitched the video together, with the official Children in Need song as the backing track. In the assembly, we had tears and it was a real hit. NB. I gained nothing extra for creating this for the school and I worked for free over the previous weekend.

But, after the assembly, the parents wanted to see it again, so I changed the listing to Public on Youtube and the school and some parents retweeted it, one even CC'd Jamie in.

So, what about the copyright. Well as this video has Jamie's song in it, it is copyrighted material. My understanding is, from reading how things have evolved over the years, and with the emails Youtube send me after a copyright video is uploaded, that the responsibility for this upload is mine. As I don't possess copyright (which can be challenged) then I cannot promote the video for paid for adverts, but the record company who own the copyright can, and even though the video creation was mine, I am not allowed to profit from it. In the description, Jamie Cullen gets a link to his song and obviously, any sales from that, he makes money from it. And this is all fine and I respect that and I hope the artists do too? I guess opinions vary?

Article 13 is part of new copyright legislation currently being proposed by the EU. This legislation is supported and opposed by a number of large organisations. The crux of this new legislation means that the responsibility for managing the copyrighted material shifts from the end user, to the organisation. Which means Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Reddit will have to screen every single upload for potential copyright infringement. Not only does it include videos, but music, images and WORDS too! This means no more meme's, no more song sharing, perhaps even no more joke sharing, no more ... sharing anything that someone else may have created!

Ohmygerd


Companies are going to have to be so careful that the workload will become unmanageable. Every post will require a disclaimer. Every upload will be screened and likely rejected if there is ANY doubt that any of it isn't original content. Currently the system works ok, and although I'm completely for better copyright protection for creators,  this poorly thought out part of legislation has the potential to destroy the internet as we know it.

As it stands now, people like Jamie Cullen can retweet our creations and make us, and the school feel like we made good use of it. I like things like this, and thank you again Jamie, for the retweet, it meant a lot to us and our school! Tweet #saveourinternet take and interest and watch this space to see if we can get the rewrite made better.





Sunday, 30 September 2018

We might be nerds, but...... tech should be simple.

People think 'techy' people are great with complicated processes and that we enjoy fixing problems. While that's pretty much 100% correct, we do prefer it when technology just does what it's supposed to. While the complicated problems do give us a challenge to overcome, on a day to day basis, when we're just trying to get work done, we prefer it when things are simple. Very simple.
Where the skills come into their own is when we're looking for the easiest way to do something.

Tomorrow I'll be working in a office which hasn't had a 'tech' visit or upgrade for a number of years. It's clearly been run on a budget, and at the time the best solution for 'sharing' might have been the Western Digital drive that they're using now. Sadly the network that they had has been decimated, and they're leaning on powerline adaptors for network access. Network access that is hampered by something electrical in the system which is causing one of the powerline adaptors to drop it's signal once every few hours, frustrating for the client who loses their work.

While only a few years back, the solution would probably have been dropbox. Through a web browser this was clunky and slow. The app wasn't amazing, and although the interface was ok, the sync software was also a bit hit n miss. As well as that, the packages were (and still are) expensive.

My suggestion for the office now is for it to transfer to wifi, which means upgrading their machines with USB wifi devices. A thrifty upgrade at a mere £10 per unit. I addition, the Western Digital drive, (which could fail and lose all of the offices shared work) should be replaced with online cloud accounts. I'm suggesting Google. Because.....
1) It's easy.
2) It's the best value for money even if they only use the free account.
3) Backup and Sync works so well and will be required for their data transfer.

I'm putting together a crib sheet so that I can clearly remember what it is I need to explain and so that they have something to refer back to after I've gone and it's this crib sheet that's caused me to write the blog.

I'm certain that there's a certain amount of trepidation in the office for this upgrade, but after putting together everything we need to cover. I'm hoping that every member of the team will be surprised at how easy it is. Fingers crossed this will be a shallow and short learning curve where everyone is able to get up to speed in the least amount of time possible and enable the office to do the great work it does every day, only with less hiccups.

Looking forward to what ought to be a great day of learning for all.


Thursday, 6 September 2018

Why your Smartphone is safer than Contactless.

Many people, myself included, were both excited and fearful of contactless payment. On the one hand buying a few spuds by simply wafting your card close to a terminal, is convenient, on the other hand, worryingly easy. Indeed it wasn't long before the media cottoned onto our fears and started feeding us stories of 'skimmers'; people with erroneous card payment devices like Square and iZettle, and people got worried. Having said that, here's the latest story (at the time of writing) from 9 hours ago. So the fear is not without justification. Companies have been selling NFC secure wallets, bags and purses, for some time so the signal won't emanate too far.
So advancing this technology into smartphones would surely be more risky? Not at all. Because the NFC chips in Android phones sit dormant until they've been enabled. They're only enabled when your phone is unlocked. So skimming isn't possible. If your phone is in your back pocket (far more likely than your credit card) Google Pay and Apple Pay will only work if the handset is unlocked first. So leaving your credit card at home and only taking your smartphone is actually more secure.
If you've steered clear of the technology because of the worry it's worth checking both apps out. When it first started it was very hit and miss, sometimes the machines recognised it, sometimes they didn't. But for the past 12 months it's been bulletproof and has got me out of tight spots a number of times (when I'd forgotten my card). It's still only good for purchases up to £30, (like contactless cards) but it's still very useful most days.
Rest assured if your phone is protected with a PIN, pattern, (or most conveniently) a fingerprint, then your money is more safe than it is on your contactless card.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Looks ok for a flight.....

It may seem like a relatively simple statement.

"Today, looks good for a flight".

If a customer is waiting for drone work to be completed and it's the morning of the scheduled flight, or the drone pilot has turned up unexpected, they may reassure the client, by saying something along the lines of....

"Today, looks good for a flight".

This would be the same of someone who is qualified, and a friend who 'flies drones'.
But there is a huge difference between these statements when spoken by a qualified drone pilot and someone who isn't.

If a qualified drone pilot says 'looks ok' what they actually means is ....

They will have completed a site survey and found a location safe to take off from, within the limits laid down by law.

It means they will know where the closest airfield is and have contact details for the local ATC, they will feel confident to alert them should anything relevant happen.

They will have checked the wind speed and direction and it will be within his or her documented parameters for flying. They know the difference between the windspeed at ground level and the altitude which they'll be flying, and as stated, it's 'ok'.

It means they will have checked whether the airspace they're flying in will be controlled or not and they will have checked to see if there is activity in this region that might cause a disruption to operations.

It means they'll have made an informed decision whether to alert the police or not.

It means they will be aware of geomagnetic activity for the day and again, it will be within the limits set out in their operations manual. They will also know if the levels are likely to cause any problems.

They will have completed a risk assessment and made themselves aware of potential dangers, some of which an unqualified pilot may not even be aware of.

It means they will have sought permissions from those legally entitled to object to the flight and that property and people will be under their control for the flight.

It means they will have checked public rights of way and considered the impact.

It means should the worse happen, then you can rely on their dedicated drone insurance which they will have in place.

It means they have passed a flight test worse than the demands of this flight and that they're confident that they've the skill to complete it, without incident.

It also means that they're confident that they complete the work, as a skilled professional, to a level that you will deem satisfactory or exceptional, and that you'll rate their work publicly at 5 stars, or 10/10!

On the other hand an unqualified pilot, when they say 'looks ok for a flight, most likely means nothing more than looks like it's not going to rain and hopefully I won't crash into something.

There's a vast difference between hiring a qualified pilot and one who isn't. But from some of the work I see online, I'm not sure everyone is aware of what these differences are and it's clear quite a lot of promotional work is completed by unskilled pilots.

Stay safe, and hire an Approved Drone Pilot

If you're local to North East Wales, then feel free to contact us at Rough Cuts!





Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Hills...

So I did decide to use the e-bike for work today. Didn't need much equipment, so the rucksack wasn't too heavy. It was 28c outside though, so I took a clean t shirt with me and showered before I set off. The journey to the local school is a mere mile, but although they're on a level with where I'm setting of from, there's a 375ft valley in between. Obviously getting down is no problem, but well hill is a steep climb. Despite this when I got to the top I took a detour to 'life on wheels', a cycling shop just outside Holywell up a further mile slog. The bike (and I) coped with this climb far easier though. I'd guess, on the step inclines I'm probably only achieving 4-5 mph, yet on the slow gradual inclines, it feels more like 10 mph. Anyhow, I made it, and bought myself a new lid. As I'm hoping to spend more time on the road, it seems like the site thing to do. Even if I did read some research earlier this week to suggest motorist give you less space with one on!


Getting back down to the school wasn't an issue and I've found a route home that is a longer gradual climb, so the bike copes much better, although without the power assistance, it would still be hell on a normal bike.
Getting home, I've got more new toys, a bar, which was very fiddly to fit, that attaches to the handle bars and allows me to spread the gubbins out a bit, and attach my new phone/action cam mount. Also not great but better now I've glued it together better (not to the bike obvs).
Busy day tomorrow, might not get a chance to ride it, hopefully Saturday.

No need from Nancy regarding the thumb throttle, just an update saying 'can you contact me tomorrow', which I think means she's going to contact me tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Ancheer Mountain E-bike - Day 2 - 30 miles

I've had a reply from Anccher about why there is no thumb throttle as advertised. Nancy is looking into it.

I rarely go out on my old mountain bike, about once a month. I live at the top of a steep, steep long hill. So the prospect of ending every journey with either a long hard slog and agony, or, as is more often the case, humiliating defeat, is not an exciting prospect. However today I wanted to stretch the Ancheer's legs and see what it could do.
ancheer.shop e-bike 2018
The Groves River Dee Chester
Last night my eldest daughter and I did 11 miles from just outside Chester near Sandycroft, down to the River Dee and back again. She has a normal mountain bike so, for the most part, I just used the Ancheer as a normal bike. We took it in turns on the way back to have a blast, so I got a real workout, as all 6 ft 1 of me struggled on a 14" bike!
Today however, I was on my own, so I parked up, just south of Talacre and set 'record' on the Komoot App (I prefer this to Strava as it allows for route planning too). Range anxiety is a reality, I guess bikes of the future will have estimated range left, but this measurement would need to be dynamic depending on how much power is being used. Nevertheless, I set off on a main road so used full assist (I didn't want to hold up any traffic). Halfway down the first stretch of road is a bridge, and it was only when I was past it, that I realised this would have been a chore on the old bike, or without assist. I switched between med/high assist wanting to enjoy the top speed the machine can help you deliver. 39 minutes after I set off and I'd completed just over 10 miles and was enjoying a bacon sandwich, latte and a much needed glass of lukewarm water. Not the best service as I also asked about ketchup and although I clearly had my hands full, the assistant (whose hands were empty) simply offered the advice...
'it's over there'.
The bacon sandwich was great though, but the latte (in the sun) was getting hotter, so I drank it before it became unbearable.
Ancheer ebike mountain 2018
Ancheer E-Bike in Talacre
After lunch I noticed a curious look at the machine from a fully fettled old latexed geezer. A situation which obviously called for some showing off. So I put it into launch mode and boom, set off with aplomb. Although I hadn't closed my under saddle storage, so all my stuff came flying out (I think I lost an Allen key but ho hum - pride comes before a fall and all that). Unperturbed I collected my belonging, zipped it up safely and.... did it again for the audience. Byeee!
It really is fun accelerating up to maximum speed in such a short space of time. In reality, that's where you feel the most difference; the kick.
The journey back was a little longer, 47 minutes, although I did stop for a pic (left), and a bit of a breather. Contrary to what people think, or say, these are not machines for lazy people. I really want to get fit and my old bike just doesn't motivate me to get on it. I love cycling, but not as much as I hate pain. In the same way I love fish, but not as much as I hate bones in my food. So I rarely have it, unless it's breadcrumbed and looks like a finger.
All in, I cycled for about an hour and a half with a half hour for lunch. But alas, my day was not over. Earlier this morning, the missus hairdryer exploded. This is as bad as it sounds, her scream woke me up! She therefore needed a new one, and reserved one from an Argos, some (checks google maps) 5.1 miles away.
"I'll go get it" I said.
"Are you sure?" she asked
'I'm not really sure' I thought, but said
"Sure".
So, I got my rucksack on and headed off. Another 10 miles under my belt in around 40 minutes.
"Wow - that was quick" was the satisfying answer I'd been hoping for on my return.

Komoot app
A short journey that would otherwise have added a small amount of wear and tear on the engine of the car, may have cost £2-£3 in fuel, has lost me a few calories and been fun too. But, here's the rub.

The hill at the end of the journey, is no mean feat. It's a long hard slog which is as hard on the motor as it is on my legs and that dynamic range indicator is a series of 4 leds. From 3; under duress it drops down to 1. It moans, and it grumbles and it helps as much as it can, but if it didn't have 21 gears, I'd be getting off and pushing. We drop down to 4th/5th and when we reach the top, we can crank it up to 6 as it levels off, but we're not flying. Short uphill bursts are swept aside with no real issues. So long as the attack speed is good, 10-15 mph can easily be maintained. But a long continuous uphill slog is exactly that. On my own, I stand no chance. With electric power alone, I doubt it would do it, but partnering up, electric and pedal power and me and my mechanic friend can manage it together.

Maybe a more expensive unit with higher voltage or current would be easier?
For now though, this is just fine and all the motivation I need. Two days working lined up, but local. In two minds about whether to use the car or the bike as it's so hot, and I don't want to arrive sweaty!
Watch this space.



Ancheer e-Bike - the Build process.

So yesterday I took delivery of a new toy. Honestly, I thought I'd been scammed. I bought this from ancheer.shop website. Which looks official, but when you dig deeper a number of things ring alarm bells.
Their customer service email ends @gmail.com
Their social media links (google+) goes through to someone call Bo kou!
Their ONLY customer service number is in the US
They're £100 cheaper than Amazon!

Sounds too good to be true right? Yeah, even though I'd bought using Paypal, but my anxiety got the better of my and caused a few of those hot flushes and sleepless nights. But I needn't have worried as twelve days after I ordered it, from the Czech republic.... it arrived. 

Here it is......
Ancheer.shop ancheer mountain e-bike

Overall it took me about an hour to build. The quality is much better than I'd expected. The front forks are adjustable which surprised me, and quite soft, but the recoil feels good. The hardest part was fitting the reflectors. I felt there was too much attached to the seat pole, so I nicked a reflector off an older bike which I could attach to the frame. Overall though, it has to be said that the assembly was pretty easy. I did have a problem fitting the handlebars to the stem, two of the bolts 'caught' and needed screwing in with force. But they're in now, I just doubt adjustment will be able to be made without replacing the top bracket (forgive me, I don't know the technical term). I didn't think the rear light worked as nothing was happening and there didn't appear to be a tab to be removed, but using the multi screwdriver on flathead allows you to prise the case apart and remove the battery tab. The lights are a nice touch even though they're cheap, they feel like a nice free gift. 

What was disappointing however was the discovery that there was no thumb throttle. Now I think that it might only be legal to have pedal assist now in the UK, or the EU. But I'm not 100% sure, and the website does state that this bike comes with a throttle. So in reality.... it should do. But alas, it does not, which is disappointing. I have emailed the company to see what their response is as it ought to be clear on the website. 

Nevertheless, when the bike was fully assembled. I was really happy with the overall appearance. The battery showed as fully charged by the time I'd finished (I think it was when it arrived) and I was ready to roll. The first blast up the road (obviously on max power) was one I'll remember for a while. Like the feeling you get when you first manage to ride a 2 wheeler. I literally flew up the road, up to 15 mph max in seconds.
The reason for getting this is to reintroduce the fun into cycling. Living at the top of a hill means coming home, is not fun. So I cycled to the bottom of the hill, and back up again. It's not easy as some people would have to believe, but you're never going slow enough, or it's never to painful to justify stopping. You won't fly up hill, unless you've got a good speed to start off with, but maintaining speed, still takes a lot of effort. 

Great fun. Now.... where to first to test it?

Ancheer 208 mountain bike


I didn't use the instructions..... (?)

Ancheer 2018 user manual

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

More important than technical support...

I'm curently sat in a classroom looking at a Mac that has 15 minutes before it's finished downloading it's updates. After it's finished it'll need to reboot and install the updates, then I'll need to figure out a way to back up the old iPads, create a new blueprint, and add some new apps to them, based on several teachers feedback. Using a piece of software that was written a decade ago, that currently has 1.5 in iTunes. The computer has already been going for over half an hour, and that's after I'd hooked up the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which weren't happy about their master leaving them while it was off for repair.
It's not rocket science, but it could frustrate a number of different people, especially considering the process isn't really obvious, indeed, I've found a help site via Google that should help me avoid erasing all of the iPads and losing all the network's settings, which is my main concern. Anything else is resolvable, but enrolling devices on a schools network is level 2 wizardry.
In all honesty, I could teach a teacher to do this, some would be able to do it anyway, but even with the knowledge, it's still ridiculously slow and complicated.
In the past month I've delighted a department who find themselves filling out the same report several times a day. By creating a simple form that produces reports for them. That and this have lead me to a conclusion about what I really do.
Whilst what I offer in terms of updating iPads, looking at wise investments, researching emailing, it's dawned on me that the real value is time.
Without me, the school would be able to get this working again. But the lack of a working keyboard might stump them longer than I, what they really get from me being here, is time, time to forget about it, and rest assured that it will be resolved, in due course.
Time, that for teachers, children and heads in today's modern Britain is so, so precious. Time to be teachers.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Ps4 online list without plus subscription

I was playing Watch Dogs 2 tonight. Single player, I thought. Logged into a new Ubisoft account when someone else showed up. Then he left.
PS plus psn no subscription games ps4 free
Some online games don't need PS plus.
Somewhat baffled (as I don't have a PS plus subscription) I did a little digging. it seems there's lots of confusion and the general consensus is that it's only free to play games. With that in mind, and the fact watch dogs isn't 'free to play' (is a paid for title), I'm going to create a list, here, of games that do not require a PS plus subscription. If you find a title that can be played online without PS plus
(or one listed below that can't be) please comment and I'll investigate and correct the list.

In no particular order.

Fortnite
Watch dogs 2
World of tanks
Racing
Elder Scrolls online
DC universe
Blacklight retribution
War thunder
Loadout
Paladins
Warframe
Planetside 2
Star trek online
Table top racing






Thursday, 22 March 2018

Mental Health and Computer Games.

When things get really bad, there could be a number of things that someone might think.

  • They might imagine things can't get any worse. 
  • Might think that they're alone.
  • They may struggle to find the motivation to carry on. 
  • Sometimes they will just feel like they're achieving nothing or may feel completely lost, and as if there is no hope. 
  • Sometimes everything will appear dark and grey, they may see no beauty in the world, but know, if they carry on, beauty could be just around the corner. 
  • They might find themselves going round in circles, occasionally making little or no progress, yet at other times, they could find themselves flying. 
  • Fighting new and old demons, sometimes they will lose, at other times they will overcome them. 
  • To start with, these demons may cause fear, once defeated, they will feel more confident, the next time they rear their heads. 
  • Success comes from dealing with the above and knowing that no matter how much, or how little progress is being made, carrying on, moving forward, is the only option. 
  • Giving up is not an option. 

All of the above statements could apply equally as much to someone suffering from poor mental health, as someone playing a computer game.  Never has this been made so pertinent, than it is playing Hellblade - Senuas Sacrifice. Not only is this game arguably the most impressive graphical work on sale for the Playstation, it's also one of the most in depth when exploring the links between mental health and the motivation behind completing computer games. Sometimes the link smacks you in the face (fighting demons for example), at other times it's more subtle. This subtlety shouldn't be lost on most players, there is no health bar, there' no distracting head up display on the screen, this is a unique gaming experience.
The fight scenes, (with the demons) have brought back an element of gameplay that I've not experienced since 'way of the exploding fist' in the mid eighties although the commands are basic

Defend (R1)
Barge (L1)
Quick attack (Square)
Forceful attack (Triangle)
Kick (Circle)
Dodge (X)


When you face your demons (in the game or real life), you need to remember that looking after your health makes most sense, or just avoiding trouble, (dodging or defending) but sometimes you will see an opportunity and you must strike. During combat (in the game now) you will hear voices; lots of voices. Self doubt, assertion, fear and a gamut of other emotions plague your mind with unrelenting advice. Sometimes it's essential to listen to your inner voice, in order to win,

"Behind you!"
"Run away",
"She's not going to make it"
"Strike now"
"She's going to do it"
This audio accompaniment and the quality of the voice acting, adds depth and quality to the title and makes the fight scenes as immersive as you can imagine, added to the simple and basic fight commands, Senua makes for an unforgettable (if short) experience.

I was asked recently why I played computer games, what did I get out of them? I;ve given this much thought over the last few weeks. They're my mindfulness, they're my escape. On face value, while many might see computer games as vapid and pointless, for me, they run much deeper. In the best, most rewarding games, tactics, strategy and intelligence play a big part in accomplishing goals that at first might seem incredibly difficult.

Almost all of the opening statements can also be applied to less complex or less morbid games (for younger audiences) like Minecraft. While Hellblade uses grotesque imagery and photo realistic scenes to illustrate the dark times. Minecraft uses far less intense lego-like zombies, skeletons and more simply; the night. Feeling lost, feeling like you've nothing left to lose (and still finding the motivation to carry on) are common whilst playing both titles.

Most of us simply don't need computer games to tell us how to behave in real life or to keep us motivated. Well balanced children and adults, get this link. But undoubtedly, some children don't learn these lessons and I wonder whether there are opportunities to link the two together. I know of a number of children with 'real life' behavioural issues, who have mastered the art of stealth (From games like Horizon or Metal Gear Solid), knowing when being quiet and staying calm is essential to game progression, but who simply cannot stay calm in real life situations.

Maybe, there is a way, or an opportunity, to link the two extremes to help them?

To use these skills they've learnt while gaming, such as tenacity, control, hope, managing fear and coping with anxieties to help them in the real world?

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Roblox - is it safe for kids.

Originally published Feb 2016
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There has been some disturbing news reports out today regarding the safety of ROBLOX. It's described as a 'Minecraft-like' game where you can explore and create a place to live and meet new friends. Iain Morrison said he played it with his 8 year old Son for only 15 minutes before inappropriate messages started appearing on screen. This alerted me not only as a parent of two young girls, but also someone who works educating kids in online safety. And kids have asked me if I knew about the game, it's popularity can't be denied.
After some investigating I have to admit, it does appear to be unsafe for children. Lets cut to the chase. I wouldn't let my kids roam free on it. Let me explain why.
According to the company's parent guide, Roblox is safe for those under 12 because the chat is limited to just their friends. See below....

XL

However, I signed up with a birthday in 2009, (thus making me 7 and a half), but the chat was open, completely visible from the moment I started playing. While expletives or censored words, were blanked out with hashtags (and there were a lot of them) there was nothing to stop me sending a message to anyone else playing the game, people who I had no idea who they were. 
In the world I entered, there were houses on one side and a 'playground' on the other. Players were free to wander in and out of 'most' houses, and into strangers rooms. Within a few minutes aplayer had asked me to 'follow them' to their house. Which was just plain odd.
In addition, there was a 'party portal' which allowed the player to go and join in with parties with curious titles, like "adults only", "Nex in here" (unimaginative code?).
In the parties, there were players sharing baths, people watching other players sleep and just general oddness. After reading the reports I have to admit, it did feel a quite creepy. 
The last observation was the comment from another party, from a player I didn't know, (bear in mind I'm playing this as a 7 and a half year old) which said 
"we need some adult girls in here"! (see below).

With this information I'd seen enough, the company don't stick to their promise of only allowing players to communicate with other players that they know. The open world is too free for anyone to enter and the habits of the players online, is suspicious to say the least. I would advise all parents to remove it from their Children's devices and stick to Minecraft, with users whose identity can be confirmed (or play over a wireless LAN). You just can't beat time with your trusted School mates or your parents.

XL
Nothing to stop users adding anyone they like as a friend. (Not that it makes much difference).

XL
 Party goers enjoying a bath together.


XL
 Top right, the open chat world, with the phrase last blue comment - "We need adult girls".

XL
Weird adoption messages cropped up frequently and players asking you to follow them to their house.


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 'come my dad' and ##### censored expletives. More 'adopt me'' messages.
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Whilst it's true there was nothing to see that could be deemed offensive (all of the players were clothed lego-like stick people), and I didn't put the game to test about protecting my privacy, ensuring my identity was kept secret. My children and I find it easy to believe that Iain Morrison's experience was much worse than mine. After such a short, short time exploring the game, I'd seen enough to raise some serious concerns about the environment that it has created. Not recommended at all.

Would I stop my kids playing it. Yes, I think I would.  



Sunday, 28 January 2018

Why I hate my Playstation 4.

First up, before I start my rant, as a gaming machine, the PS4 is totally competent. With the exception of the tiny controllers, which took me a good week to adjust to (I suffered a considerable amount of pain first though) the machine can game well. I appreciate that I've left it a long time before committing to either Xbox or Playstation, but after a months use. I can honestly say, I've made a mistake.

First up, I didn't just buy it as a gaming console. It's 2018, (ok 2017 when I bought it) and a games console should be able to sit comfortably in the middle of your home and connect all your media together; simply. If a machine has a function, (for example the abolity to play Blu-Ray and other media), I'd expect it to be able to do it competently. As well as having the ability to play amazing games it should be able to access your Network attached storage to play your music and video files and it should also integrate with the rest of your equipment to play any other media you care to throw at it.

So, why doesn't it tick all of the boxes?

First up, it doesn't play surround sound from Blu Ray or DVD. I appreciate everyone's set up is different, but all of the feeds for my amp, come via an optical lead from my TV.
This works fine with other devices. A HDMI cable takes a surround sound signal (and 1080p image) to the TV, and the TV passes an optical 5.1 surround signal to the amp.
During gameplay, this setup works fine. Playing Gran Turismo, you can hear which side approaching cars are on. In FPS games you can hear footsteps and dialogue in front or behind you.
Now here's the weird thing. When playing movies from genuine Blu Ray or DVD, the trailers play in full surround (demonstrating that the setup functions perfectly) but when the film starts, the signal drops to PCM Linear, also known as stereo, or 2.1.
(Audio output is set to Bitstream, in system and in Disc menu settings). 
The subwoofer is active, the left and right channels are active, but the front centre speaker, and the rear speakers are inactive.
Trying to get support from Sony Playstation support is like pulling teeth, or getting blood out of a stone. Their final say on the matter? It's the codec, so, basically, it's Lucasfilm's fault. Peculiarly, if I listen to Audio track 4 on the force awakens, it does play in full surround, but I'd need to learn another language to understand the film. 

PS4 why I hate my playstation
Sony blame the disc manufacturers for their inability to decode surround sound. 


So that's irk number one which doesn't look like Sony want to resolve.

The second irk is the Media player. Interestingly, if you look at the licence details for the media player, you'll see it belongs to a developer with a gmail account. Yup, the default media player on the PS4 wasn't written by a Sony engineer, with a Sony email, but it is in fact licensed to them by an independent developer.
Which might explain why it's crap. Whilst it scours my home network fine and finds my music collection, there is no Album info, besides whats on the ID3 tag of each MP3 file, and this includes the album art and worse still, the track numbers.
So when you want to use your PS4 to play an album, you've got two choices, randomly mix the tracks up, or listen to them in alphabetical order.
This is a huge disappointment.

As I mentioned first up, as a gaming machine, it's top notch. Graphics are good, I love the design and the unit runs quietly. In addition the PS store is also really competitively priced. I've spent many pounds more than I needed to buying games from Amazon, which I later found cheaper via the PS store only a few days later. Frustrating, but I applaud Sony for their competitiveness. However as a modern machine that promised so much. I have found it to be a very disappointing experience. Something tells me that the Xbox might be a more rounded product, with better blu ray support and hopefully a better media player too. Obviously I'd need one to test it.