16 Oct 2009

My Son, The Entrepreneur

If you have a son of aged between nine and fifteen, you are quite likely to have heard of Roblox which describes itself as an online building game - a sort of cyber-Lego. Both my sons are addicted to Roblox and have full membership accounts, although you can join for free with more limited access.
Users can build virtual worlds out of blocks and customise their "avatar" person and world as they like. In the process they learn, so the site says, "engineering, design, science and programming while playing." The site is fantastic for children who love the computer - it means they can play and learn at the same time in a safe environment and you don't need to worry what they're up to.
The child can play alone, or can choose to take part in interaction with other users. There is, I have noticed, a definite pecking order amongst the users. To be a 'Noob' is undesirable and the longer you have been a member on the site, the higher your standing is in the Roblox community. It's almost as if the site was invented for boys with social skills deficits as it allows them to interact with others without actually interacting. Genius!
My younger son found it first but it is my older son who has become a Robux-millionaire, Robux being the currency of the site. You can earn Robux in various ways on the site but don't ask me how - I'm a grown-up after all.
My younger son will design things and give them away, but Luca has set up a Ro-business designing virtual Michael Jackson shirts for Roblox Avatars. He has sold thousands of these designs to other users through his Blobbyface5 account (see image for a few samples.) He bases his designs on MJ's various costumes he wore throughout his career and has designed more than a hundred varieties.
It seems my son is a born entrepreneur and a natural salesman. He has spotted a gap in the Ro-market and has exploited it, building his catalogue of shirts and bank of Robux in the process. I wonder if the team at Roblox realised this would be another way for children to learn while using the system. I, for one, think it's great - maybe Luca's entrepreneurship will be the springboard for a life in business becoming a real millionaire so he can keep his long-suffering parents in the style to which we could become very accustomed.
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14 Oct 2009

Christmas Cards - a Friendly Gesture or an Eco-Crime?

My friend Hayley has raised an interesting question on her Facebook account. She's trying to be eco-friendly so, should she send Christmas cards this year? Would people be offended if they were just wished Season's Greetings face-to-face or via an e-greeting?
Hayley realises that this just won't do for our old-fashioned relatives for whom getting a Christmas Card is confirmation that they're still alive, but for friends you see frequently?
Personally speaking, just yesterday I ordered my cards from the National Autistic Society as a way of supporting the charity, but having read Hayley's post, it occurred to me that I could have just sent them a donation over an above my annual membership instead. But on the other hand most people I send cards to I don't see everyday (like Hayley!) so for me this route isn't quite so practical.
I suppose sending an NAS Christmas Card is also about spreading the word about the charity because I have been helped very much by their Advocacy For Education Service when we were going through statementing and their Early Bird+ programme after diagnosis and just giving a donation wouldn't have the same impact. I do believe this is such an incredibly helpful charity that we should help in any way we can. (PS you can donate here).
I do believe that Christmas cards are a huge source of revenue for charities - people who might not otherwise make a simple donation would buy a pack or two of cards and provide much needed funds for the charity concerned - this is a trade off because some charities rely on such sources of funds. (though Friends of the Earth only offer free e-cards)
But Hayley does have a good point. Christmas Cards to people we see regularly could be classed as a small-scale eco-crime. And if you then extrapolate the amount of paper and trees used up by everyone in the world doing the same thing, then we're talking millions of tonnes of paper and forests of trees. And then after Christmas, too many people will just bin the cards rather than recycle them.
One solution as already mentioned would be e-cards, another would be buying only cards made from recycled paper and then recycling them afterwards. If you can buy charity recycled cards and then recycle what you receive, even better.
I have to confess to keeping cards I have bought one year but haven't used and sending them the next year - although Sainsbury's 'so-helpful' message about "Recycle cards at Sainsbury's to the end of January 2009" printed on the back of their cards makes you feel very Scrooge-like!
And what about our children? Do we tell them that they must be eco-friendly and they can't send cards to their friends? Well, yes you can tell them that, though for children with autistic spectrum problems like mine, it is a triumph if they actually want to send a greeting to another child and I would feel duty bound to let them. Fortunately, when this happens, they soon get bored of writing so it isn't too big a problem.
For myself, although sending cards to technophobe relatives is unavoidable, I would be happy to receive an e-card rather than a paper card so Hayley can rest assured that a Facebook e-card would be most welcome.
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5 Oct 2009

What a Smart Boy!

I know I can gripe about my boys, maybe even poke gentle fun at their amusing ways, but my 10 year old younger son, Giorgio has just made this amazing animation and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Makes me think I was born twenty years too soon - just think of the fun I could have had if I'd had more than a pippa doll and a cardboard box to play with... What do you think?
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Fancy A Good Read?

When I've had enough of the kids' backchat (which is frequently), I like nothing better (apart from a snifter of whiskey, but that's another story) than losing myself in a good book. I was reading in the Saturday Times Magazine about what the literary great and good would have as their Desert Island Books. Clearly, these people are far more learned than I, or possibly just a load of pseuds. It wouldn't look good to say you liked a good old crime thriller, would it?  There's a bit of Tolstoy here and a bit of Dostoyevsky there. Okay, if you were marooned on a desert island, you might want something that's going to take you a year to get through but for just passing the time while ignoring the kids, here's what I've read lately. There's a link to Amazon if you want to read more yourself or if you even fancy buying one:
The late Carol Shields is one of my favourite authors. It seems that in her books nothing happens, yet everything changes. Her writing makes me feel calm and centred, which I definitely need after a day with the boys.
Thomas Phelan - 1-2-3 Magic The only book on discipline you will ever need. I need to re-read it but I lent my copy to someone and never got it back.(Update - Hayley sys she has it, which I had totally forgotten.
The 'Sliding Doors' of novels, Lionel Shriver's Post Birthday World is sparsely written, which I like, as over-description bores the life out of me.
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking: This book is about the year immediately following her husband's death. I am told by a lady in a similar position to whom I sent a copy, that it is comforting to see you're not going mad. It's a good book even if your husband is still alive...
Barak Obama, Dreams of my Father. Although ostensibly a political autobiography, I found this a good and easy read as well as being inspirational.
Kathy Reichs - 206 Bones: The latest in a series of crime fiction featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, this will really hit the spot if this genre appeals to you.

JD Robb, aka Nora Roberts seems to write a book a week. If you like female detective/police fiction, you'll love these quirky, race-along novels set in the near future.
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