Historian for WP

Today I relaunched my WordPress plugin (RetroPosts) with the more descriptive title: “Historian” and a pretty major feature, a sidebar widget!

Historian is a plugin that gives you a glimpse into the past by surfacing your blog post’s from this week in history. I’ve been blogging on ohryan.ca for 7 years and every time I look at the plugin, I am reminded about a cool thing from the past. It’s really interesting to see of far the internet has come since I started this blog.

For example, I couldn’t believe how terribad the first version of Instapaper was? I found this by reading one of my old posts. Based on the techcrunch post this was considered great app design back in 2008. Unbelievable.

When I originally came up with the idea for Historian, I had thought it would just be a useful way to gain some inspiration from the past or follow up on a topic I hadn’t covered in a while.

In reality, I think it could be really cool to let your visitors see what you’ve written in the past. I think it can add some credibility to your blog if you once were a more prolific blogger than you are today.

You can see my historian in my sidebar right now.

Try it out yourself on your blog →

 

Back in the RSSR

My reddit account just turned 8 this year, in that time the more I visited reddit, the less I checked RSS feeds. To the point where I completely stopped reading them after Google killed reader. Reddit was where I got all my news and that was fine.

But over the years – I don’t know if it’s reddit that’s changed, if it’s me or a combination – I’ve started using reddit less for pure news and more for pure diversion, cat gifs and memes. When I do end up reading news, I usually just read the headline and skim the comments for someone’s summary or an interesting discussion point.

As I thought about this more, I realized that I have not been reading much, period. This is a bad thing.

For the past month or so I’ve been trying hard to get back into the habit of reading RSS feeds and it’s going fairly well.

Ironically, my reader of choice is the new(ish) digg.com, the site I quickly abandoned when I made a reddit account 8 years ago. The new Digg reader is quite good. It does three pretty interesting and useful things. (1) It mimic’s Google’s old reader fairly well; (2) It has a popularity feature that shows you the most popular posts from the feeds you follow – handy for a quick read; (3) “Digg Deeper” scans your Twitter feed and exposes popular links from the people you follow (not dissimilar to something I built for myself when Twitter first launched [relevant]).

5 Tips for Playing Board Games With Younger Kids

I have two kids, boys, currently aged 5 and 7. We’ve been playing board games as a family almost from birth. Over the years, I’ve been constantly impressed by their ability to pick up and enjoy some of the most complex and involved modern board games.

The 21st century board game explosion has spawned hundreds of great games geared toward children of all ages. There’s nothing wrong with those games.

But I don’t think you should stop there. In my experience, kids are learning machines! Introducing them to more advanced games can be a great fun way to challenge their math, logic and reading skills.

Here are some ideas to help you choose games to play with kids.

1. Ignore Recommended Ages

The recommended ages listed on the sides of the board game boxes are almost always completely meaningless. Unlike recommended ages on LEGO boxes, board age ranges are an extremely poor gauge for complexity or appropriateness. These recommendations certainly don’t speak to the amount of fun a child might have with the game.

Sometimes it’s OK to use the age as a judge of relative complexity. For example, it’s fair to assume that a Haba game listed as ages 3+ is less complex than another game listed as 8+. But that doesn’t mean a 7 year old won’t enjoy Monza, nor does it mean that a 5 year old won’t be able to grasp Formula D with a bit of hand holding.

There may actually be a pretty good reason for the odd age listings. Games sold in the US market are subject to the The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which is (apparently) a very ambiguous law that regulates the safety of products sold to children under the age of 14 [source]. It can be costly and time consuming to go through the testing and approval process. Sometimes distributors will stick an “Ages: 14+” on the side of the box and I believe sometimes the regulator will set the age based on their own findings.

Exceptions:

  • Sometimes the age suggests inappropriate themes. For example, a 10 year old is probably not ready to face the violent moral dilemmas in Dead of Winter.
  • Obviously, if a kid hasn’t figure out how to not put small pieces of plastic in their mouth, you might want to stick to card games. There’s no real age limit on this :)

2. Game Length is irrelevant

If your kids are anything like most kids, the game length listed on the side of the box is several orders of magnitude longer than your kid’s attention span. But that’s ok. You don’t have to “finish” the game.

If they’ve never played the game before they won’t know the victory conditions. I’m not advocating lying to children. I’m just suggesting on coming up with more condensed victory conditions if you believe your children won’t have the attention span to get through the entire game.

In most cases, this can be done without changing a other rules:

  • If you’re playing a game with victory points, you can simply lower the total victory points needed to win.
  • If the game has a fixed set of rounds, knock off one or two rounds.
  • Or, simply set a reasonable time limit. This can work well with adventure games, or longer strategy games.

With some games that depend a lot of long strategy, you will lose that aspect of the game. But with the most complex games, kids will need more time to grasp the full strategy anyways. By playing shorter games, you’ll be able to keep them in the game, while teaching them bits and pieces of strategy.

3. Avoid “Take That” Mechanisms

Games with heavy reliance on “take that” mechanisms can be devastating to children. Maybe this goes without saying but, kids aren’t really accustom to the concepts of being screwed over or stabbed in the back. Doing something to take away victory points they just worked hard to earn IS MEAN and WILL make them cry.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid playing those games altogether. I’m just suggesting avoiding take that or modifying the way you play those games.

For example, a key aspect of the Munchkin games is playing extra monsters and other cards against opponents in a fight. I simply don’t do this, I learned quickly that this does not go over well. It doesn’t take away at all from the humour or cooperative aspects of the game. One day they’re realize (or we’ll tell them) that they can play those cards against their opponents and it’ll open up an entirely new aspect of the game

4. Don’t Avoid Math and Reading

Games are probably the single best way to trick kids into learning.

Most 4 year olds can count the pips on a 6-sided dice. I’d argue that dice games are the best way to teach kids simple math.

Reading is a little more nuanced. Games with simple written commands can be a great way for kids to learn how to read. Card games with longer descriptions can be ok too. Kids are great recognizing pictures, once you’ve read the same card a few times, there’s a good chance they’re going to remember what the card does.

Card games with hidden hands and complex can be a little harder to play with kids who are still learning to read.  You might be able to play the face-up hands until they learn the game. But for some games where hiding cards is really important, this might not be an option. Use your best judgement, obviously.

5. Help Them Win

If you’re playing to win, you’re doing it wrong. Kids are going to have a more positive experience if they do well and have a strong finish. They’re not going to be very happy to watch you show them how to to lose.

Playing games with kids should be a fun learning experience. Take time to hold their hands. If you see them make a strategical mistake, take a moment to explain the implications of the move and talk about different things they could do and why they might be a better idea. DO NOT tell them what to do. Do give them the opportunity to disagree with your advice.

In Conclusion, Don’t Under-Estimate Kids

Candyland, Battleship, Monoply Jr, Sorry, playing cards and all those old staples are certainly one way to waste a rainy afternoon at the cabin. The modern offerings from the likes of Haba (I really don’t know any other modern kid-focused publisher, sorry) are a great iteration on the “kids game.”

But seriously, your kids are smart and they love play.

Obvious Caveat: Your milage may vary, all kids are different. 

48 hours with Apple Music

I’ve been a subscriber to rdio for a couple of years, streaming music isn’t anything new to me. So I was very interested to check out Apple’s implementation.

Here’s my take after using it for the last couple of days.

The Good

Playlists:
The curated playlists are feature I didn’t expect to use much, but I’ve spent more time listening to these than anything else. Apple is doing a great job of both selecting playlists I’d be interested in based on my music preferences and selecting tracks.

The only weird thing is that the playlist seem to skew heavily towards older music. I’m not sure why this might be, I don’t typically listen to a lot of old music.

Library:
The selection of available artist and albums is comparable to rdio. I have yet to look for something I couldn’t find.

Streaming Tech:
Apple is doing a much better job of varying the stream based on available bandwidth. We have a few mobile internet dead zones near our place that always trip up rdio, Apple Music has not had any problems in these zones.

Apple Music also seems to be doing a good job of buffering. There is no delay in switching to the next track.

The Bad

Desktop Client Does Not Work: 
I can’t get Apple Music to work in iTunes, period.

App UI:
Rdio has a really great mobile app. Apple, not so much. I find it really confusing and hard to use. More on this in a future post (maybe).

Beats 1:
Beats1 plays the ultra poppy music you’d expect a beats wearing teenager to eat up. It’s not for me.

 


How To: Tweak Disqus CSS for Twenty Fifteen Theme

After installing the twenty fifteen theme I found that disqus’ comments were butting up against the edges of the layout.

You can fix this by adding the following Custom CSS

 

@media screen and (min-width: 59.6875em) {
	#disqus_thread {
		margin-top: 8.333%;
		margin-left: 8.333%;
		margin-right: 8.333%;
	}
}

@media screen and (min-width: 38.75em) {
	#disqus_thread {
		margin-top: 7.6923%;
		margin-left: 7.6923%;
		margin-right: 7.6923%;
	}
}