Pokémon gives the Go ahead to Augmented Reality Gaming

To write this blog I obviously had to spend a few hours actually using the app, named Pokémon Go – all in the name of research, of course… Ha! I was born in the early 90s, so spent much of my pocket money on Pokémon cards (much to my father’s disdain). As a 90s baby I also have a weakness for nostalgic blasts from the nineties/naughties past.

But, what really captures the millennial attention with this game is that it’s a good bit of tech. As kids that grew up very much in the new tech boom, this latest delve into augmented reality (AR) has peaked our interest. Whilst it’s been on the techy radar for years now it’s rarely been used outside of the advertising arena, with a small shout out to the AR geology app iGeology3D. So this is the first, real example of successful, big arena AR gaming.

Okay, it’s a little buggy (I played for hours upside down) and yes, perhaps the algorithm isn’t perfect, such as pokémon turning up in inappropriate places but for a free app, the first major one of its kind, it’s pretty good.

It has had a lot of backlash, mainly around the algorithm problems, however, I must question whether the app is entirely to blame. The game is pretty addictive but you know when not to enter somewhere. Equally, the NSPCC have hit back at the game, labelling it irresponsible, which I must agree with to an extent. It’s worth reminding children not to wander off without a responsible adult with them (who is not playing the game) and encourage them to stay in the open, near people, even if there is an Espeon just in those trees, and I think this is something the app fails to address. Something I think Nintendo, as a kid based company, have let themselves down on.

Despite criticisms, I think if the app is played responsibly, with full awareness of your surroundings (which is possible, the app even vibrates when you’re near a Pokémon, so you don’t actually need to stare down at it) then the game is a brilliant example of AR capabilities. It might not be perfect yet, but like many things just starting out – and considering Nintendo and Niantics’ massive underestimation of the game’s uptake – it’s proving to be a real up and comer. In fact, Nintendo shares have risen by almost 12,000 points since the release date (figures true as of 18.07.16).

Okay, you might feel a little weird wandering the streets looking for pokémon but actually, exploring Guildford Town Centre on a busy Friday afternoon, getting a few looks, a couple of sniggers, I found it a weirdly freeing activity. It was embarrassing and I did feel self-conscious… for all of 10 minutes until I found several people quite clearly doing the same thing, jumping for joy because they found a Kakuna (who would’ve thought, eh?) and actually being outside! It was rainy, cloudy and muggy, so for anyone, gamers specifically, to be outside, it’s a kind of big deal.

952photo credit to knowyourmeme.com

In fact, one Radio One interviewee even stated after a few days of Pokémon Go he had walked 25k, ‘more exercise than [he’d] ever done in his life’. And that’s why I love this game. It gets people out, and more than that, it gets people meeting. I met a lovely group of teens, a, rather timid, group of adults and what’s more, we all bonded over something and for that brief moment you feel closer to strangers on the streets than ever before. After all, when else do we say hello and bond with someone we have never met before and will likely never meet again?

So I encourage everyone to give Pokémon Go a try, because as long as we all behave in a safe, responsible, and self-aware manner, then this could really highlight the way for Augmented Reality, and I for one welcome it with open arms.

What is a friend?

Today is national best friends day and it got me thinking about my best friends, and why they are so dear to me.

Growing up we have a lot of friends, some come and go – we drift apart, we fall out, life gets in the way. But others walk into our lives and we know, whether immediately or in time, that our lives will never be the same.

Over time, we can’t imagine life without them, they are our rocks, our family.

But what separates these people from the ones who leave our lives? What makes a best friend?

For me,  my best friends are the ones who are there, without hesitation, through thick and thin. Who will help me out without question, and who would destroy anyone who dare hurt me. Who I would go through hell and back for. They are the people who are loyal, who say;

“Ugh, she’s got so ugly!” Or “have you seen what he’s doing now?” Just to cheer you up. Or the ones who tell you everything will be okay, offering you a cup of tea to take the pain away. The ones who don’t even have to think about your birthday because they know you so well. Hell, you even buy each other silly gifts at random times just ’cause.

They are also the people who will tell you if you’re being stupid, who make an effort with your other friends or partner and know you have to wait and see for yourself if they’re no good. They are the people who never let distance, work, or life force you apart. They are the people you stayed up all night with, telling stupid jokes and watching crap TV, who even as you grew stayed by your side telling you the same  stupid jokes and reminding you who you have always been.

They are the ones reminding you of your embarrassing stories, always telling the most embarrassing first to everyone you know.

They are the ones that pick you up when you fall, raise you when you feel low. The ones who can tell when you’re lying, when you’re not okay, when you need a helping hand.

They are your home away from home, your rock, your safe place. They are your best friend and without them life would be downright dull.

So, to my best friends today I say, I love you, even if you can be a pain in my butt, even if you’re the ones making fun of me, I  couldn’t imagine my life without you. Thank you.

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Learning to live with an invisible illness: my battle with MSK

I’ve wanted to write this blog for a long time but finding the words to explain something that has literally changed my life hasn’t been easy but, here goes…

The best way I can think to describe Medullary Sponge Kidneys (MSK) is, imagine a piece of natural sponge, the way that looks, well, that’s how my kidneys look.

spongebob

All rights belong to the creator

Because of these holes it means I am also riddled with calcium deposits, or kidney stones. This then leads to increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and Kidney infections, which can lead to sepsis and death as worse case scenarios. MSK also causes chronic pain in the lower back and can lead to Kidney failure.

My MSK journey started in my last year at uni. Every month I was having at least one UTI and they came on really suddenly and got bad quick. Doctors fobbed me off as not drinking enough, despite my pleas that something was wrong.

I continued battling with doctors until one day, in the middle of the night, I woke up in complete agony and collapsed in the bathroom.

I was urgently admitted to Poole Hospital’s urology ward, where I was finally diagnosed. I was put on low dose antibiotics to control infection, which I take once a night for the rest of my life and I regularly have blood taken to check my kidneys aren’t failing. Eventually I was also referred to a dietician who broke the news that my meat loving self would have to be more vegan.

As well as being a ‘part-time vegan’ I also have to eat a low sodium/salt diet and need to avoid refined sugars. Alcohol, however, is fine; a small win. I really struggled at the start, many foods low in salt are high in protein. However, practise makes perfect and eventually it became easier.

Since changing my diet (and sticking to it) I’ve found I get infections much less frequently and even the back pain is essentially gone. However, I’m still learning the things I can and can’t do and how to manage my condition.

I went to Greece with my partner last summer and whilst there had a UTI. I carried on taking my medicine but towards the end of our first day we agreed I needed to see a doctor as I was struggling to walk and was bleeding when I went to the toilet (sorry TMI). But getting a doctor to come out was going to cost a couple hundred euro and we didn’t have that kind of money so instead the hotel recommended we go to the hospital. What I haven’t mentioned was that we visited Greece during late June 2015, you know, when money just didn’t exist within the country? We entered the hospital and it was like one of those zombie apocalypse films. It was deserted, many of the lights weren’t switched on and it was eerily silent. Eventually we found someone and I was given stronger antibiotics.

I struggled along, hoping the antibiotics would work. They didn’t and on our last day I became delusional, my temperature rocketed and I couldn’t move. Finally, it was time to get on the plane and head home, it was the longest three hours of my life.

We landed and drove to the closest hospital where I stayed for a week while they managed my severe kidney infection and temperature of over 40 degrees (that’s over 104 Fahrenheit). Before being discharged I was warned about the seriousness of sepsis and how close I’d come.

In hindsight the heat of Greece, combined with the high salt and protein food, it’s no wonder the infection took hold and I realised how important it is that I drink plenty and eat right if I want to carry on doing these things. I’d also never go away without backup antibiotics now too.

The other part of my condition I’m slowly learning to manage is exercise. I’ve always been an active person so when I realised that exercise was making my back pain flare up and triggering infections I feared I would never be as active again. However, recently I’ve been slowly introducing it back into my life, building my workout each month. I’m now training to do a 5k run for charity in July, something I didn’t think I’d be able to do again.

But the one good thing that’s come out of all this is I’ve really learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that being vegan is actually super yummy. I was terrified at first, thinking I’d miss meat and struggle to cook without it, but actually I find I rarely miss it and vegan cooking is not only simple but introduced me to a lot of things I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

The other thing I’ve learnt is to listen to my body, it’s taken a long time but I find I’m healthier now I know my limits and know when to take care of myself. It’s not been easy, and it certainly reminded me that no one is invincible but I’m getting there. It’s changed my life but I refuse to let it change me.

Are black cats in brand crisis?

If primary school history taught us anything it was that the Egyptians adored cats. Their adoration was so much in fact that cats were considered gods. They were the little, four-legged, furry rock stars of the age.

Whilst one could argue this still remains the case – with half of the internet seemingly dedicated to videos of funny felines (we won’t mention what the other half of videos are) when we think of the general consensus around cats, they’re not quite as worshipped as they once were.

Selfish, fickle, disloyal. These are all words that have come to be associated with the once pedestalled pets.

But the ones that have it worst of all are the black cats. Sneaky, dangerous, bringers of bad luck. There are endless myths surrounding the black cat that have caused them to become the least loved of all the moggies.

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Image source

Research by Cats Protection suggests that black cats spend, on average, 13% longer waiting to be adopted than any other coloured cat. Furthermore, they’re more likely to be let go too it seems, with an RSPCA report detailing that of the more than 1000 cats taken in, 70% are black or black and white in colour.

But, the really scary fact is, black cats are also more likely to be neglected, abused and even killed. And why? Nothing more than silly superstition.

Now, I’m not saying all superstitions should be dropped. We all have our quirks – for instance, I refuse to walk over three consecutive drains as my cousin once told me it was bad luck – but this brings no harm to anyone. I have a Russian friend who believes that before drinking you must make a toast. Again, not harmful and actually, quite enjoyable for all.

But some superstitions should have been forgotten centuries ago.

So where did this superstition come from?

The ‘crazy cat lady’ isn’t a new phenomenon. Lonely women have been caring for cats for centuries (proof, I think, that they are wonderful pets) but, during the mass hysteria that was the witch trials, women weren’t the only ones set for a terrible time.

Legend has it that when two men tried to scare away a black cat by throwing rocks it became injured, fleeing into a near-by house. This house, however, just so happened to be the home of an old woman accused of witchcraft. Later that day the old lady was seen limping around town and thus the myth was born that witches could transform into black cats. From here the rumours spread and distorted and eventually black cats were considered an omen of ill fate, the familiars of witches and friends of the devil. They were often killed along with the ‘witches’ that cared for them.

But hold on, we now know that there’s no such thing as ‘witches’ and the persecution of them has long been over, so why do black cats still have this reputation?

It took a long time for the hysteria to die down and slowly the PR for women recovered (well, in regards to witchcraft anyway). But no one exercised crisis management for black cats. They still have superstition and myth attached to them and this has long been causing them misery, abuse and serious harm.

So, I’m here to ask, do black cats need some long required crisis management? I believe so. And, if any black cat happens to be reading this blog post, I’m here to help.

Making a storyteller

I recall vividly my first lecture at university, the beginning of a 3 year long course where nothing would be drilled into me further than the importance of storytelling, where we were told that,

“Storytelling is intrinsically human, there is nothing we are more driven to do than tell stories.”

“Think about it. Each time someone asks about your day and you tell them? That is storytelling. Or when you explain how you met your best friend or significant other? You guessed it, storytelling. Or when you read the news, you bet that’s storytelling!”

But the story that’s really hooked me this week is the current Netflix phenomenon, ‘Making a Murderer’. Now that is sparking storytelling. Many have told the story of missing evidence not presented, many have told the story of their own emotions while watching the series, many a news reporter has told their accounts and told and retold the story of the trial and of ‘what happened that day’.

elitedaily.com
Photo credit to elitedaily.com

Another thing that is intrinsically human is our curiosity and nothing sparks that more than a crime. As humans, as morbid as it may be, we love a crime. And to make a story from a crime is simple. Who, what, why, when, where? These are all questions we ask when a crime has been committed and they’re also the same questions we ask when telling or hearing a story. So, combine the two and that’s how Netflix have struck gold with the series. We also love an underdog, I’m not sure why that is but a lot of us like to root for the little guy.

Every part of the story told plays on the things that engage us as humans, it appeals to our sense of morbid curiosity, our joy for being ‘sofa detectives’ and our ability to be completely taken in by a good story. And that is exactly why, I believe, the show has taken off and why Steven Avery’s January request for an appeal has been more successful.

But what’s interesting, and what has been criticised, is the way they’re telling that story. It’s, seemingly, one sided. ‘Portraying’ Steven Avery as an innocent man. Now say what you will but is that not the point of being a defence attorney? To tell the story from their side, to portray the evidence that could inspire ‘reasonable doubt’, which is all that is needed for a jury to (in theory) conclude not guilty. The show is clearly in a position of defence, they are clearly appealing for people to see the ‘reasonable doubt’ because their story isn’t every single fact with no bias, that would be boring, long-winded and, honestly, nowhere near as compelling a story.

Whether you think that is right or wrong what you cannot deny is that they absolutely know the story they want to tell, they know how to sweep the audience up and they know how to get their point across. They are successful storytellers. And this could be the very reason that, perhaps, Avery could see a retrial soon, despite previous failed attempts. And, perhaps, could result in his freedom. It’s maybe too early and too presumptuous to argue that but I think the power of the series has made many people interested in the case and root for his freedom, which is a powerful thing indeed.

And let’s not forget that it was the story told by the prosecution that got him in prison to begin with because a conviction is based on the trial, the story told by Kratz was clearly incredibly powerful too for the jury to convict despite, my belief, that reasonable doubt was present.

So, when told well, a story can change lives.

 

One charity is breaking hearts with this simple campaign

David Sheldrick Wildlife trust
All photo and video credits to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Hugo Guinness

Friday morning is usually a happy, cheerful event. The weekend is coming and I’m super chipper as a result. However, today I have found myself in tears, cursing some of the people in this world.

Why, you may ask? Because I watched ‘I will always remember you’, a devastating animation created for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust by Hugo Guinness.

See what I mean? I’m not even a big crier. In fact, I’ve spent my life getting quizzical looks when people realise I haven’t cried at any Disney movie, or Titanic, or Marley and Me, and no, the Notebook did not make me ‘well up’ either. However, just a few lines and a soft symphonic piece was enough to leave me completely heartbroken on a Friday morning and I cannot congratulate them enough for this astonishing piece of work.

Sometimes the most impactful things are the simplest and ‘I will always remember you’ truly exemplifies that. It’s not very long, the music is lovely but nothing you’d write home about (especially in these days of texting), and the animation is wonderfully minimalist. Each thing alone would be nice, it would do its job well I’m sure, however well is not what a not-for-profit strives for.

Let’s be honest, we as a race can be fairly self-centred. The biggest charity support often comes from those with first-hand experience of the charities cause, so, not being elephants ourselves and the fact they’re not very practical pets, it’s difficult.

Therefore, when a charity is trying to inspire change and make people care about something that doesn’t affect them, they need superb, they need haunting and shattering, they need something that really works, and this story of an elephant’s journey through life is just a great example of that. Using each element so perfectly they have created something that really makes people think, and feel.

Major kudos to the The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Hugo Guinness!

Now, how do I adopt one of these poor little babies?

If you want to see more inspiring and brilliant not-for-profit campaigns the ‘Hope Locker’ from Water Aid, which caught my eye last week, is a great place to start.

Why ‘FireWatch’ fell short of being totally ground-breaking

After hearing a lot of hype and reading a lot of great reviews I recently purchased Campo Santos’ ‘Firewatch’ and here’s why what could have been the most ground-breaking game in decades fell short.

So, first off, what’s it all about?

It’s not your average game, you won’t face any villains or bosses and you certainly won’t need to fire a gun or brandish a knife. And yet this is one of the tensest games I’ve ever played.

august 2014 youtube
photo credit to YouTube Aug. 2014 trailer

Set in a National Park you (Henry) have recently abandoned your hometown of Boulder – for reasons I will not reveal – and taken a job as a Fire Watch. Your only contact with another human-being is through your walkie-talkie conversations with your boss, Delilah. You spend your days hiking through the park.

I bought this ‘interactive narrative’ game a few days ago and within one day I’d finished it. It is a pretty short game (what do you expect for a mere £14.99) but I was so taken in by the storyline and game play that hours flew by without me even noticing and before I knew it I’d reached the end.

I think the biggest hook of this game isn’t the interactivity, the fact that my choices could quite easily change my relationship with Delilah and therefore the game, but just the sheer simplicity of its parts coming together to create something truly emotive. That is really the game’s USP.

The storyline works so well with the simplicity of the gameplay and setting that you don’t actually need anything else. In fact confrontation with ‘bosses’ or other villains would actually have ruined this game and the often painful levels of tension.

The game thrives on confusion and the unknown and what better setting than a national park? When have you ever walked through a huge forest, alone, and felt safe? The setting, storyline and gameplay all feel well thought-out and each play their part in making a deeply immersive game.

So, after hours and hours of sitting on the edge of my seat, playing with baited breath, I reached the end. And here is where the game falls short. I’d read many reviews warning the ending was unexpected but that it gets you thinking about what it means to be human and to make choices. And that’s why the choices work well, the choices I made as Henry played a part in the outcome of the game and my relationship with Delilah, you realise that what has happened was because of the choices you both made. You feel like you really did play a part in the game.

popsci.com
Photo credit to popsci.com

Don’t get me wrong, that is powerful stuff, but I just expected more. The tension completely fell short by the end and I was left with a feeling of emptiness, like a broken promise. There are so many other options the creators could have taken that would have made the game feel so much more worthwhile. The story just kind of ended, as though they weren’t sure where to go next so decided just to stop.

It’s a shame because Firewatch has incredible potential. It used interactive narrative, a simple story and a perfectly thought-out, and often beautiful, setting to create something with so much impact, never before seen, but just falls short at the end. Nevertheless, this game is well worth playing because I can assure you it’s only the beginning, but perhaps that’s its problem. Interactive narrative has been developing hugely over the last few decades and I think this is a huge first step in making viable games that give gamers that little something extra we’ve been waiting for. So watch this space, despite its flaws I think Firewatch has just stepped things up.