Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nintendo DS games for Kids

My daughter got her DS aged 7 and my son 6. Both presents from a grandparent.
I was apprehensive about them having a personal games console, but reasoned that as long as I could offer better alternatives (i.e. human interaction) the DS would be ok. I

I started by only having games that used the stylus as interface, avoiding 'clicky' games. I also avoided games that incited sort bursts of adrenaline, that you had to endlessly repeat and had that style of addictive fascination.

After a year or so, when on holidays (with long car journeys), i would temporarily allow these sort of high excitement games. And at the end of the holiday we would sit down together and review which games they liked, which games they were stuck on and needed help.

Music Games:
Elite-Beat Agents
Rhythm N Notes
Rhythm DS
Maestro Jump in Music

Legend of Zelda
Animal Crossing

i spy fun house


big bang mini
left or right hand ambidexterious

worms open warfare
spam: Cocoa Jones

Monday, August 09, 2010

Teens and the Internet

As a kid who did it all myself and was very tech savvy, i know that a parents have a pretty hopeless job in censoring the internet.

Teenagers are highly motivated to seek out the banned and nowadays with multimedia mobiles and such, the there is no sure way of ensuring that kids will not be exposed to images that are inappropriate for their age. Yes this gives them unrealistic expectations of their future imagined self but....

I don't think that all the filth, violence and narrow mindedness on the net is actually damaging on its own (yes it can be abused by sadists, bullies & politicians to create fear, to further their own gain, but that's not specific to the internet). In some-ways this noise gives parents the opportunity to discuss the world, and that's the important bit, being able to discuss and explain the world with them, by sharing and partaking in it.

So i think the best tactics are communication, encouraging trust, and good example media.. Channel4 did a series on this and is both enlightening for parents and children -

Ok - so liberal wishwash over with, lets get pratical and see our options..

Not having computers in the bedrooms or personal laptops is a good idea.
Keeping doors open in the house, if you do have a laptop etc..

Open discussion
- explaining boundaries - what is or is not appropriate at what age..
- behaviour on-line, particularly with others while at home, and how they are representing the family group, that they belong to.
- consequences

---to install on router.... to filter the internet, a bit draconian, but its applied to the whole family, and as rules are rules when going to the cinema 18, buying alcohol, or going to bed earlier than adults, this is the same..

---to install on computers to monitor chat & social sites... for 'friendly' surveillance(if such a thing exists). I like this because unlike other parent keystroke logger it just sends warnings to the parent. So you can then bring it up with the child without seeing what was fully said and reading their 'private' messages..

Another issue to consider before installing any such software above is.... have the kids bugged your computer? Its very easy to do, and if they have they will have access to any passwords you used to control that software. Here is a list of anit-bugging software. As with all passwords make sure that its got letters and numbers in it, and is at least 8 character long, and is not based upon personal information (pets name, birthday etc..._

---to find malware/keystoke loggers Windows(haven't tried these, but they come recommended)
(trial version) (free) (trial version) (trial version)

---to test if your anti-keystroke logger software is working (windows)...

---to find malware/keystoke loggers OSX/Mac (trial version)

--Good Anti-virus (free/open source)

Friday, July 31, 2009


Sunday, April 19, 2009

1.4.0 £44.95 Designed for young people - works very well, well designed and is stable. I had a 6year old animating lego on his own in a few minutes. (one i set up the camera and opened the software). Includes very basic keying for chromakeying background, basic drawing and export for imovie or QT. Does not have sound of any kind, text or speech bubbles or uploading files taken from a digital camera. Wished the spacebar was take picture not play - 'apple'+return is not a good shortcutkey for capture-frame. v2 £34.70 / £70.11
Basic interface suitable for children and teens, My six year old could use it but preferred 'I can animate' as it's interface was less busy. Comes in three versions Home, Express and pro. Express & pro include Sound, lipsync, basic roto. All versions have flipbook printing, chromakeying/compositing, video recording. AnimAide XT 1.09 £28.66
- No Longer in development
- A couple of features that others don't have including having great word/phrase support (placing words visually as well as acoustically on the time line) & rotoscope (import a file to onionskin with). But crashed often and the display flickered on my MacBook. The interface has a very 1990's unintuitive design. Not aimed at young people. Looks like a young product, may change with future updates.

- dont bother -not good for stop motion..

Others I have not tested:
- Professional Animation for adults. Comes recommend by fellow artists. $40
- powerPC only BTV Pro
- great simple interface
- open source, a bit buggy when last tested in 2008


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Digital Camera for a 6 year old

OK so my sister asks what to get my son for his 6th birthday and i redirect her to a amazon wishlist to get some ideas about what she would like to give and she says a camera for about £45... I'm a digital visual artist in the film industry so we all liked this idea as it was following daddies work, and mum is also a bit of a shutter bug..

The criteria:
-Tough(could be dropped from 4ft onto concrete)
-Simple to take and review pictures straight out of the box
-Cost effective
-Quick start up and no noticeable shutter lag when taking a photo
-Good exposure (so indoor pictures could be taken and not be blurred due to slow shutter)
-Ok quality (i.e. same as a mobile phone - images are good enough to keep for sentimental reasons)
-To educate about composition and lighting

VTech Kidizoom £42 in p&p amazon

I read some reviews on the fisher price camera and Vtech and decided to to have a look at the vtech, went to hamleys to have a go with it in the shop. I didn't have an issue with the 0.3Mpixel quality, but the exposure response(making the flash unusable) and bleeding of the colours made this very much a toy. (the first firmware version of this camera is even worse) Its got games, inbuilt effects and very easy to use. But I wanted something that he would still want to use in a few years and not have to be upgraded. If he was three years old it might of been an ok investment, but the image quality and 'baby' looks would not last a 6 year old long. Even if he was 3, the shutter delay and over complication of lots of buttons(for all the extra game features might put me off).

Vivitar 5188 5.0MP Underwater Camera - £45 inc p&p on amazon

Arrived from amazon put a pair of AAA duracell batteries in it and gave gave it to my son. He found it easy to use and he was taking pictures and reviewing them within a couple of minutes. Good big LCD screen, chunky buttons. Quick response. All the pictures taken inside were really blurred/streaky, the ones outside in direct sunlight were good and far better than any mobile phone and impressed me for the price. The lens didn't look like a cheap plastic one with acceptable chromatic aberration even through the case. The plastic was thick and looked robust(i didn't drop it though). I had a go myself to see if a steadier hand would get better results. On a dull overcast day the images were still blurred if taken hand-held (the camera being fixed focus didnt help and even with what looked like anti-shake was switched on it sucked). You could argue that he was very happy with the camera and it took great pictures outside. It worked ok wih OSX. I could live with the exposure response, it could even be used to educated about adequate lighting but..... After two dozen pictures(x3 taken with the flash that takes over 30sec to charge up) the batteries died!! The battery life meant that either we used lithium batteries that would cost more than the camera itself in a few months or used rechargeable ones that would mean changing them several times a day by a adult. No one yet sells rechargeable AAA Li-lon bateries. Vivitar do recommend slow discharge NiMH batteries that they also sell and possibly these would of been better, who knows. bahh. I returned the camera.

Canon WP-DC300 Waterproof Case for S30
£45 inc p&p ebay(2nd hand)

The first thing with this was that the buttons was to difficult for him to press as he wasnt strong enough. I had to make a slight readjustment to the camera with a folded piece of tape and then it was ok. Also it was really big and did not sit that well in my sons hands. I wasnt sure at first but after a few hours he was ok with it. Also the size of it makes it a bit of an eyesore, but thats possibly a detergent for thieves, and a few stickers latter it started to look like a kids toy.

The 2nd hand non-brand rechargeable batteries that came with it lasted only half a day. Luckly i had the same canon battery from my slr camera and tried that out and that gave over a days charge. The quality of the images in terms of detail wasn't as good as the Vivitar when in bright sunlight, but in overcast, indoor & flash images the difference in quality due to a faster shutter was vastly improved (i.e. the camera had a greater response to low light and a wider contrast range). The zoom lens & macro was used extensively by him and the un-fixed auto focus helped him to get better shots. He had no problem navigating the buttons. The lcd screen was a little small and dim in direct outdoor light, but he found using the viewfinder instead ok.

I was surprised at how good the camera was (especially as it goes for £15-25 on ebay) and my son took more pictures with it that were not blurred than the Vivitar 5188.

Vivitar 6200w Waterproof Digital Camera £40 in p&p on ebay (£99 new)

Off put by the 'kids' cameras i discovered this, and its what first made me consider using a underwater camera for kids. As far as i can tell its not available new any more and would have to be bought 2nd hand. Aldi did sell it for a week, for only £30 and these black versions sell for even less on ebay. In a waterproof rubber case it is probably the toughest camera here. I wasn't able to get my hands on one, but reports on the web complain of poor in low light and eating AA batteries really quickly, although looking a some of the pictures on the web, it faired rather well underwater and that would be a low light environment.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

iPod for kids

(8y) Christmas - 2nd hand ipod nano(from a relative) and a £18 iPod speaker from Play

- make sure the audio limiter is on
- keep the media appropriate to the childs age
- too much media at one time can be overwhelming - stagger uploading material.
- only the first few chapters of a audio book is loaded, to encourage reading the rest.
- with music or audio-literature motivation to first concentrate on the media is often driven my what they are studying in class or what friends have introduced. by noticing what is happening and regular discussion with my partner and offspring we can find things to encourage. This can then be developed by extending into a similar genre. I find its abou making choices available at the appropriate time.
- as with most media, discussion during/after is paramount.

I tried using community readings of books but on the whole the quality technically and of he speakers reading skills were so poor compared to he professional versions that my 8y old just wanted them removed to make more space.

Shared community read literature (free):

The ipod gets used on a daily basis mainly to listen to Harry Potter books that she has already read. On the music front, i have found that unless she has been introduced to music via her class or peers she listens to little else. So her tastes are limited to the beatles, queen, bob marley, abba, and grease(the soundtrack)

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Surveillance of young people(teens) on OSX

When visiting a friend they discovered their 13year old son had been sexually propositioned by a girl (15 years) over IM to meet up and do it. The parents asked me what they could to with the computer(sons personal laptop) to prevent the kids using the computer they gave their son in this way. As well as to have a record of what they had been up to if their offspring disappeared(that had happened to a girl at their school earlier that year and involved underage sex with an adult, drugs, a runaway organised over msn and eventually the cops). The parents were against censorship(i.e. web filters) but not surveillance with the minors knowledge. My personal views on teen censorship are not expressed here, but a list of choices available to parents.

I said that you can:
-install spy software.
-get admin control over the computer and backup the computer to an external disk so you have a record (logs of IM's & browser history) if the laptop goes missing.
-only let the laptop be used publicly with supervision

The issue is that a variety of software can be used to access the internet for IM or web communication, so if the parent is going to monitor the computer they need to control what is installed on it. Also if they are going to install any 'parental software' if the minor has administration access to the computer it makes it far easier for them to disable it. To do any of the above you need to be the super-user i.e. be admin with greater privilege & have a secure password!

If you do manual/admin control you need to limit what applications are communicating. So the only way to be sure is:
- reinstall osx clean if your kids are at all IT/hacking friendly
- ask what applications they want on it to start with.
- every time they want to add an application you need to understand what is being installed (i.e. say no). This might not be practical, as it requires the parent to have to have the IT experience to set it up and know what the offspring are doing when they ask for the password to be typed in because they wan a game or something installed.
The disadvantage of screen-capture software is that it does not search or present 'bad' activity. It just shows everything, so a parent is going to spend 45min a day checking it, use it as a big brother threat, or use it to a keep detailed record of all activity just in case.
Education(parent & child)

Parental tools _OSX :
software - free for basic
Email alerts monitoring all chats, myspace, facebook - language analysis for direct/ indirect contact (i.e. coming to your house), Specific and sexual references
Keylogger-mac $49
records keystokes(only one side of IM), screen capture, web visit lists, email delivery (no demo so i haven't tested it, but the interface looks a bit chunky)
Spectorsoft $99
records keystokes(only one side of IM), screenshots
-basic simple interface -expensive for what it is..
GURL Watcher - $20
records the URL and title of all web sites viewed in any browser and emails
words or phrases list to ban web pages
KidsGoGoGo - £30
-good filters for internet, records URL, screenshots, IM logs(both sides), ipod monitoring, time setting, application blocking
-modular interface sucks, steep learning curve, requires adding proxies to firefox
Mac OSX Leopard
-TimeMachine: Backs up everything (all files on computer) - but difficult to check, but good record, if a super-administrator is setup, so stuff cant be deleted.
-Parental Controls: web filters but only safari, logs ichat (but not any others)

- add password to the airport (both for users(to protect from wardrivers) & a parental one for the administration)
- The young people need to not have admin control of their laptops.
- A back-up using time-machine to be set up(the kids were actually very happy to do this fearing he loss of all their mp3 if there hard-drives went down)
- The young people need to not have access to the time-machine shared disk.
- The OSX install disk must not be given to the young people ever!
- Use to monitor IM and social networking sites
This was written summer 2008 and the choices might of changed now.


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