Mistaken for an Authority

I like to wear a blazer most of the time. I find them very comfortable, they have conveniently positioned pockets, they’re appropriate for most social contexts and I think I look good in them. I’ve got a small collection of them, which I mostly just pick up in charity shops for under £10 when I can find them.

Wearing them so often, I’ve noticed a strange power that they seem to have: making people think that you have some level of authority. Which is quite amusing. Let me give you some examples:

  • When I was in the third year of university, a first year student mistook me for a lecturer.
  • When I went to an ice skating rink, a couple of peopled asked me for the rules about skating, assuming I worked there.
  • When I accompanied a friend of mine as they went to a doctor’s appointment, they mistook us for inspectors (we were both wearing blazers.)
  • Once when a friend of mine and I wanted to explore the private parts of a fancy building we were in, we just went there and got away with it by acting like we belonged there (again, I was with another blazer wearer.)

I suppose, to be fair, I am being a bit presumptuous. It could be a string of coincidences and, in each of those instances, a person wearing different clothes would have been mistaken in much the same way, but it seems unlikely. It’s the sort of thing that happens fairly regularly. It’s also worth considering that being a white male with a “well spoken” voice may also be contributing factors. Which would be unfortunate.

It makes me think, it must be quite easy to be a con artist. If a certain type of jacket instills in people some level of trust without you having to do anything, it must be really easy to take advantage of that by consciously playing up the notion that you are a trustworthy authority. Someone once told me that it’s just as easy to do with a hi-vis jacket too. It’s interesting, and disappointing, to think about how much importance people place on these surface level things.

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Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Designing homes has always been a big part of the Animal Crossing series. You catch bugs and fish, sell fruit, do chores for people and all to make some money to expand the size of your house and to get new pieces of furniture. With Happy Home Designer, they decided to make designing homes the central theme of the game, making it very different to previous titles.

At the start of the game, your villager gets a new job working for Nook’s Homes, a home design business run by Tom Nook. What’s quite nice this time, is that you are put in complete control of what your  character looks like right from the start: you can choose skin colour, hair colour, hair style, the shape of their face and what their eyes look like. It’s a nice feature which I am surprised wasn’t implemented earlier, so the game gets off to a good start.

You get shown around the Nook’s Homes office and are introduced to your colleagues. You work alongside Lottie (an otter, related to Lyle from previous games), Lyle (who’s slowly become a lot more legit as the series has gone on, which I like), Digby (Isabelle’s brother) and Tom Nook himself. All the characters can be spoken to in order to answer questions and tell you what to do.

Once that’s all done, you move onto the main body of the game: building homes for people. You go out onto the street and you speak to passing villagers who will tell you what they’re looking for in a home. They usually will give you some sort of instructions (but not always) and then you’re just given free reign to make the home as you please. You choose the best sort of location for the house (for example, in the woods, near the beach etc.) and then design the outside of the house and the garden, then you start placing furniture and designing the inside.

What’s quite nice about designing the homes, is that it gives you the opportunity to be quite creative. In past instalments, it was hard to make a really special home, because you needed to have a lot of money, but this time money doesn’t factor in at all. You have a large selection of furniture to select and each time you take on a new client, you unlock more pieces of furniture to unlock. It must have more furniture options than any previous game in the series.

As well as designing homes, Isabelle will occasionally come in and ask you to help with public buildings. For example, she might ask you to design a restaurant, a school, an office or a shopping centre. These tasks always took longer than designing homes, but I always enjoyed doing them more. After doing them, you can also see animals using them as they were supposed to be used, which I always quite liked and found quite satisfying.

To help make the designer aspect more user-friendly, furniture can now easily be placed using the touch screen. It makes moving and rearranging furniture so much easier and I hope that this is a feature we’ll see back in future games. You’re also given more freedom in regards to where furniture is placed. In the past, it used a kind of grid system, where furniture took up certain squares, but you can now place things, for example, so that they’re half in one square and half in another, if that makes sense.

But, speaking of easiness, the game is definitely too easy. The villagers may give you a rough outline of what sort of home they want, but if you can fail to satisfy them, it never happened to me.  At times, it started to feel a bit monotonous and I just started to think “What’s the point?” so I definitely recommend playing this in small doses. This applies more to the home designs, rather than Isabelle’s tasks. It’s sad that, for example, you can’t even build friendships with the villagers like you do in previous games. Or that you can’t save money to do things.

I guess I do quite like being able to design things, I just wish that more purpose was given to your creations. You can share them online, but that was never all that appealing to me. But if you don’t think that will bother you, the game has a lot of content: all of the hundreds of Animal Crossing Amiibo cards can be scanned and they’ll all bring in new villagers with new tasks and furniture. It’s just a shame that the Amiibo cards were distributed randomly in packets – I wasn’t actually able to find the cards of a lot of my favourite animals, such as Julian the unicorn.

Overall, I wouldn’t want to say that this was a bad game… It’s just very basic. It’s nice to dip into it every now and then when you’re bored, but it never really captivated me. I can imagine that there are some people who would get really, really into it and get hundreds of hours of fun out of it… but I don’t think that that will be the case for most people. The game is very similar to Animal Crossing: New Leaf in terms of interface, graphics and soundtrack and I couldn’t help but think that it should have just been DLC for that game, rather than an individual release.

Rating: 7.2/10

Buy it here.

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Censorship

Censorship is a subject which concerns me quite a lot and a subject which is in the media at the moment, for various reasons. However, my concerns about censorship tend to be quite different to those of the majority (or, at least, what appears to be the majority from my perspective.)

A lot of people get upset when people with racially controversial opinions have their platforms taken away or their books cancelled. People feel similarly about the critics of the transgender community who are not given the chance to say what they want to say. People claim that some of those with left wing ideologies have gone so far as to be threatening people’s freedom of speech.

I do agree that this is an issue – to an extent. On the one hand, there are people who are keen to be offended on behalf of a minority and so then call something offensive and harmful, even though it might actually be quite positive. A good example of this would be the recent censorship of To Kill a Mockingbird (one of my favourite books.) And examples like these need to be stopped. On the other hand, refusing to give a platform to speakers who directly attack individuals in the audience (on personal grounds) seems quite fair. Then there are complicated middle grounds, such as what to do with statues of famous figures of US history who were slave owners. Removing them would be to forget and deny the tragedies of the past, whereas keeping them in place would be to honour negative figures who may not deserve to be honoured.

But, while these are all issues which need to be thought about and discussed, I think the biggest censorship threats are actually much larger. In America, for example, there’s the risk to net neutrality and, the rumblings of government censorship in the UK which have been on and off for a few years.  Without net neutrality, what is seen on the internet will be decided by those with the most money (which is very alarming) and the idea of the UK government enforcing internet censorship seems like a slippery slope towards the kinds of things they have in certain parts of Asia. People need to be able to share their ideas and it worries me that the voices of the rich and powerful could one day drown out all other perspectives entirely. I hope it will never happen.

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Doctor Who: Timewyrm: Exodus by Terrance Dicks

When Doctor Who was cancelled on television, it came back in the form of a series of novels, the first four of which made up the Timewyrm series. What’s quite exciting about this one is that it was written by Terrance Dicks, who is one of the best known and highly regarded of the writers who worked on the show during it’s original run (and beyond.)

I do think that the series was off to a good start with the previous book Timewyrm: Geneysis, but this book really managed to blow it out of the water. The first book had a lot of sex and violence, things which I am not necessarily opposed to being used in Doctor Who but which were handled in a somewhat immature manner and in a way that didn’t feel quite true to the show.

Nothing in Timewyrm: Exodus felt as if it wasn’t true to the show. Having said that, I also wouldn’t like to say it was just like something that could have happened in the series. The book does contain some very adult themes, but they’re mixed perfectly with the Doctor Who ethos, creating an impressive ambience between the two.

So what’s the storyline? Well, the Doctor and Ace arrive in London in 1951, but small things alert them to the fact that something is not right. They soon realise that history has now been changed so that the Nazis won World War 2 and conquered the UK. The Doctor then starts to investigate where exactly the timeline diverged and then set about trying to get it back on track – using time travel, of course.

Something that I appreciated was the attention to historical detail. All of the references to real life happenings (and the ways that they were changed in the new timeline) were really interesting. Alternative History is a genre I’m very fond of and though “What if the Nazis won the Second World War?” is a commonly asked question, the answer that this book provides is very enjoyable and thought-provoking.

What makes the book even better (for big fans of the show) is that it has strong ties to some of the earlier mythos of the show. I’d hate to say what happens, because I was very pleasantly surprised when I came across it naturally and I’d not want to rob anyone of that experience, but it was very cool. Although it might be lost on more casual fans of the show.

Overall, I kind of feel that Timewyrm: Exodus should have been the first book in the series, because it’s a really interesting and exciting story. I found myself reading multiple chapters at a time because it was, as they say, hard to put down. Even if you’ve not read the first book, the connections to it are relatively small, so you might want to give this a read. I’d say that it is one of the best Doctor Who novels I’ve ever read, fans should definitely give it a try, if they can find a copy.

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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Feeding Creativity with Emotional Energy

I remember when I wrote as a teenager, it was usually something I did when I was feeling sad. The negative energy fed into my creativity and provided me with a nice escape from whatever it was that made me unhappy. It was good, in a way, because it meant that if I was feeling unhappy, the upside was that I’d be productive with my writing. I guess the downside was that it meant that I was more inclined to write stories with unhappy endings or a darker tone.

At some point (I’m not sure when) there was a shift within me. Rather than drawing creative energy from negative emotions, I started drawing it from positive emotions. I think it might have coincided with writing becoming a communal activity for me, as opposed to a solitary one.

When I started university, most stories that I wrote were going to be read but a lot of people. There were close friends in particular who I always enjoyed sharing things with too. Often I was driven by my desire to share my work with others and I’d look forward to seeing their reactions to my work. It was around that same time that I also started keeping this blog, which further helped to make my writing more of a communal activity.

I think that my writing turns out better when it’s driven by positive emotions, but that does also mean that I need to be in a good mood in order to get some writing done. It’s also possible that it isn’t the shift in my mood that’s created the increase in quality, but rather the fact that I’ve learned more about writing in those years.

Nonetheless, I do think that my writing has benefited from approaching it with a more positive mind-frame. If you’re a writer, I think it’s definitely worth taking this into consideration to see how much it affects the quality of your own work.

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Not Wanting to Be Friends

There was a time when I had completely run out of friends to spend time with. It was quite an unhappy time, because spending time with my friends is my favourite thing to do. Naturally, my solution to this problem was to try and make new friends. Not having much money to spare, I signed up to a website which is designed for people who want to make friends.

Someone added me who was similar in age, lived in the nearby area and had several common interests. That sounds ideal, right? So we chatted for a while online and then agreed to meet up for lunch a little later. I was quite excited and then, when we finally met, I found that they were easy to talk to and that they were perfectly pleasant.

The problem was, that I just didn’t care. It was quite an anomalous thing for me, but I actually had no interest in developing a friendship and cultivating a bond with this person. The whole time I wished I was at home reading or playing games. Even though I had no one else to meet up with and the addition of this one friend would have been a huge addition to my social life, meeting with them did nothing for me. I never communicated with them again and they never communicated with me either. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came away with a similar feeling of disinterestedness.

It was an unusual experience. At fist I thought that, perhaps, I’d just lost my ability to properly bond and socialise with others. This was a concerning thought. Then I thought that I might have been a little too depressed at the time to become enthusiastic about making new friends. Then I concluded, that some people just don’t have the right chemistry. You can like and be respectful of just about anyone, but to form a meaningful friendship, that chemistry needs to be there.

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Halo: Combat Evolved

To be quite honest, I don’t play very many first person shooter games. I guess it’s just not a genre which appeals to me in the same way that RPGs, platformers, life sims and other genres too. In fact, Halo: Combat Evolved might be the first FPS game I’ve ever reviewed on here. But since this was such a popular game and supposed to be one of the very best in its genre, I wanted to give it a try.

So what did I think? Well, actually, I was quite impressed. The game has you playing as a character called Master Chief as he fights in an inter-planetary war. Things do take quite an unexpected turn and though the story is a little too complicated, it does a good job of setting up for some high quality gameplay.

Master Chief (with the help of his AI companion, Cortana) has to fight his way through a race known as the Covenant (and later, “the Flood”) and this battle takes him through lots of different locations. You’ll find yourself fighting your way through space ships that are under attack. Sneaking around snowy wilderness. Having shoot outs in dark jungles and abandoned military bases.

Some of the area in the game are actually quite creepy and I appreciated how atmospheric it could be. In fact, the Halo games drew a lot of inspiration from fellow sci-fi franchise Alien. There are a lot of little references to the first Alien film and scenes which mirror moments from it – if you’re an Alien fan, you’re likely to like this game even more.

In terms of gameplay, I felt like the controls worked really well. I didn’t have any issue with the general combat. The vehicles, perhaps, took a little bit of getting used to, but they weren’t too bad. Generally though, I can’t fault it and that does a lot to contribute to my overall appreciation of the game.

The game has two major flaws, in my opinion. The first is that some of the research centre and space station levels are extremely monotonous. It felt like some rooms were just copy and pasted but with no enemy locations. Not only did they lack variety, but they also were far too long. I usually don’t like really long levels that are really interesting, let alone really long levels that are not.

But, still, most of the game’s levels were good fun and the game, on the whole, provided a solid experience for me. There’s also a multiplayer mode for people who enjoy having death matches with their friends.

Rating: 8.3/10

Buy it here.

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Healthy Diets

Last week, I had dinner from a take away fast food restaurant twice. I wasn’t very happy about that, but I didn’t really have much choice. My work day, while only five hours long, ran from 2:30pm to 7:30pm with my bus home at 8:40pm. I’d get home at 9pm or perhaps a little after. When was I supposed to make dinner?

It’s mostly these low level, minimum wage sort of jobs that have these late, erratic hours and if somebody’s working in this kind of position long term, their diet is going to have quite an impact on their health. Imagine, for example, a parent who finishes work at 7:30pm and then has several children who will need to be fed. Are they going to make a healthy dinner, which they’ll then all eat at 10pm or later (and which will effect their sleep) or are they going to pop into a take away and pick up some chips? It’s the latter.

When you think of it like this, working late suddenly seems even worse than it did previously. After all, there’s already the fact that most people are free in the evenings (and not the morning/afternoon), which mean that late shifts essentially eliminate social lives. Having had to work late recently helps me to realise that the people “at the bottom” (or at least, near the bottom) who have to work late shifts at their job, are having their health impacted quite a lot by being pushed towards unhealthier food-options and its quite frustrating.

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Being Offended

One argument I see quite often is the “Just because you’re offended, it doesn’t mean that you’re right!” Which is a true and fair point. Having said that, it should equally be remembered that just because you’re offensive, it doesn’t mean you’re right either. There’s a common attitude that “the truth hurts” and in some cases, yes, it does, but that doesn’t mean that the person who is presenting the most hurtful argument is the person who is right and nor does it mean that the person with the least hurtful argument is being too idealistic.

It’s just something that I have wanted to articulate for a while, because I see “just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right” come up so often and, really, it’s quite a worthless statement. It has about as much depth as “just because your hair is brown, doesn’t mean you’re right” or, in fact, perhaps it has even less depth than that. In a debate on any subject between two people, I think it’s quite fair to say that the person who’s wrong is more likely to have an argument that’s offensive. A level of offensiveness is a sort of warning sign that what they’re saying might be wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people do become self-righteous and believe that their being offended means that they’ve got the moral high ground. For example “Seeing gay people on the television is offensive to my religious beliefs, so they should not be allowed on television” is a clear example of the person feeling offense being in the wrong. Equally, however, somebody might say “Gay marriage shouldn’t be legal, because homosexual relationships are just based on sex and there’s no real love behind it, like there is with heterosexual couples” and a lot of people would be, rightly, offended by that – the offense stemming from something that’s completely wrong.

It’s always important to assess why somebody is offended by something. If they’re offended because they (or another group of people) are being unfairly dehumanised, then their feelings of offense are absolutely justified. If they’re offended because they personally aren’t comfortable with certain hard facts about life, then they are not justified. Some people seem to think that if a person becomes emotional in a debate, then they need to be dismissed – but often offense, and other emotions, are bound to run high and (when it comes to certain subject matter) you’d have to be very detached for your emotions not to be affected.

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 4 by Yusei Matsui

Having loved the first three volumes, there was no doubt that I would buy volume 4 of Assassination Classroom. This review may well contain spoilers for all of the volumes up until this point, so make sure you’re up to date before reading. Here is a link to my review of volume 3, if you need it.

In this volume we’re introduced to two interesting new characters: Mr. Lovro and Etona. Mr. Lovro is the mentor of Ms. Jelavitch and I quite like seeing his response to the Koro-sensei situation as well as his relationship with Ms. Jelavitch. Etona is even more interesting in that he is supposedly the brother of Koro-sensei and he also wants him dead (like everybody else.) As Etona isn’t also a giant smiley face octopus monster and is in fact, a (mostly) regular kid, it brings up more questions about who Koro-sensei is. Being drip fed these pieces of information about his past helps to further strengthen the mystique around him.

Other than Etona, I felt like this volume was a little lacking in more dramatic events.  There’s a chapter near the end which is about the students getting involved in a baseball game. While I can still enjoy reading it, I found it to be one of the least interesting chapters so far. But, on the other hand, the series doesn’t need drama to be endearing – there’s quite a nice chapter where Koro-sensei, Nagisa and Karma travel to Hawaii in order to watch a movie and I quite enjoy getting the chance to these characters doing something relatively normal. It helps everything feel more real.

Towards the start of the volume, Ms. Jelavitch needs to prove herself in order to remain a part of the school. I liked that she took the focus for a little bit and it gave her some nice development. I especially enjoy interactions between her and Karasuma. Meanwhile Koro-sensei is as charming as ever and it becomes even harder to believe that he would genuinely blow of the earth… yet the threat looms.

Personally, I felt like the story lost just a little bit of momentum with this instalment, but that by no means means that it was bad. I think you’d struggle to find any ongoing manga series where the quality remained consistently high with every volume. Overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anybody who has enjoyed the story so far.

Rating: 8.5/10

Buy it here.

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