Atlas And P-Body Are Friends

Back in Februrary, I mentioned that Dante was playing Portal 2. Well, a few weeks ago, he finished it. Once again, he did so without help from me, which was so cool to watch. I continue to be surprised at how difficult I find it to allow him to be stuck and frustrated, but instead of helping him solve the puzzle, I work on helping him manage the emotional component of stuckness, so that he can recognize when he needs a break.

As a result, he sometimes powered through parts of the game, and sometimes went at it in fits and starts. Also, there are places where the jeopardy factor gets pretty cranked up, including a chapter titled “The Part Where He Kills You.” He knew about this chapter from a Steam achievement of the same name. Spoiler alert: the chapter is somewhat misleadingly titled. So as he approached that part, he would play for a few minutes and then quit out of nervousness. Eventually, though, he got through it, and beat the game.

Now, I’d finished both Portal and its sequel a couple of years ago. I loved them, and it was fun to re-experience them through Dante’s eyes. However, there was a part I’d never gotten to play. See, Portal 2 has a cooperative mode, with puzzles requiring participation from two players. You play two different cute little robots, one named Atlas and the other named P-Body, and solve a bunch of portal-themed puzzles with them.

Atlas and P-Body

I’m a solo videogamer for the most part, and I have no interest in partnering up with some random from the Internet. I know one other person who plays the game, but my schedule is restricted and it’s hard for me to commit solidly to game time, so I didn’t feel right trying to arrange shaky late-night gaming sessions. Plus, it seemed like we’d need some kind of voice chat to make the cooperation work well, and I’m not equipped for that.

However, once Dante finished Portal 2, not only did I know another player, I actually live with that player! There was an obstacle for a while, in that the mode was originally set up to be played online, by multiple owners of the game. I only own one copy, and it seemed silly to buy another one just to play the co-op levels. However, a little research revealed that the game had been patched to support splitscreen co-op play on the same computer, as long as a game controller is plugged in. I’d gotten game controllers so Dante and I could play Lego games cooperatively, and obtained a monitor big enough for splitscreen last year. We were in business!

Now we’re playing levels that are new to both of us, and having a blast. Dante is a great partner. I’m no longer holding back — I’m working just as hard at solving the puzzles as he is, and both of us are contributing. I absolutely love it when we’re stuck and he gets us unstuck. (Of course, I’m pretty satisfied being the unsticker as well.) Whoever has the current idea will direct the other, and we’re making it through together.

I think I’ve figured out why people have kids. :)

Is Everypony Ready?

A couple of years ago, Dante followed one of his closest friends into a Pokémon infatuation. Now she’s moved on to something new, and he’s moving with her: yes, quite suddenly, it is all about My Little Pony here. There have been little rumblings for a few months now, but several weeks ago his interest suddenly skyrocketed, for reasons I’m not sure of.

He sought out some YouTube videos of all the songs from the first several seasons of the show, and watched it over and over again. Based solely on this video, he extrapolated a bunch of “facts” about the show and the characters — some correct and some not. Then he taught us these facts, and hailing as we do from a non-pony country, we learned them. Only slowly, over time, did I come to realize how much of this information he’d simply made up on his own.

However, once I understood what was going on, I was rather perturbed. I really do not want Dante to adopt the habit of inventing his own information and then acting as if it is true, without bothering to find out the real deal for himself. I want our family to live in the reality-based community, thanks very much.

Lucky for me, the show is on Netflix, which allows us to catch up with who everybody actually is, and why they do what they do. Now Dante can rearrange his conjectures to match the real story. We’ve made a deal to try to watch at least one episode a day, though once he figured out how to use Netflix he started zooming ahead of me. That’s fine — I don’t mind catching up.

Even luckier for me, the show is actually pretty fun, as many a brony could testify. It’s one of those shows where the main content is for kids, but there’s enough in there for adults that we can really enjoy sharing it together. The comedy, especially, is quite well done, and they sometimes make the occasional reference that would go well over a kid’s head but be caught by an appreciative parent. For instance, Pinkie Pie’s gait as she trails after a fellow pony is pure Pepe Le Pew.

So now I’m learning all about Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia, and the rest. Dante is learning how to sew, because Rarity sews. He’s making rainbow-themed art at school. Celestia is the background on his computer account. And we’re all learning a lot of valuable lessons about the magic of friendship.

A New Hallelujah

So, there are a couple of things that set up this story. First, let me tell you about the Dramatic Action Music CD. In supplying Dante with music for his room, I’d made him a couple of mix CDs of classical music, pulled from a collection of classical music used in the movies. He listens to these a lot, and has definitely found gravitated towards certain tracks. Recently, as part of his fascination with Nero, he decided he wanted to make a new mix. He pulled his favorite tracks from the classical mixes, a selection of John Williams’ Star Wars music, and, for some reason, “Computer Assisted Design” by They Might Be Giants. Once he’d crafted the mix, he called it “Dramatic Action Music”, we burned it to a CD, and he’s been listening to it ever since.

That’s the first piece of setup. Here’s the second. We have some amazing friends who have sent Dante a little present in the mail, every month, since he was born. For quite a long time, this consisted of cute little gifts, chocolates, magazines, etc. However, as he’s gotten older, random stuff like that doesn’t work as well, so they proposed sending him a little money each month instead, and we of course happily and gratefully agreed. This week, he decided to cash in the accumulated stash for a Lego Friends vet clinic. I believe the “Lego Friends” line is Lego’s attempt to appeal to girls, but of course the little kitty, the animal playground, and the intriguing machinery would appeal to Dante as well. He’s also gotten a bit interested in the Friends characters, since Laura brought home a library book for him about them. Apparently the aspiring (or actual?) vet is named Mia. Her cat is named Missy, and there’s another worker at the clinic named “Aunt Sophie.”

So we ordered the kit, endured a couple of days of “Is it here yet is it here yet is it here yet is it here yet?”, and finally it arrived. Dante built the clinic and integrated it into the Lego utopia he’d already built. This gave the cat the opportunity to get stuck up in a tree, and gave Mia the opportunity to come to the rescue. While this play was happening, the Dramatic Action Music CD was on in the background, and the music it happened to be playing was the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. This juxtaposition tickled Dante, and he told the story for several days of how Mia rescued the kitty to a chorus of hallelujahs.

A while later, he got curious about the song, and googled “Hallelujah lyrics.” What he didn’t realize is that when you google “Hallelujah lyrics”, you don’t get Handel’s Messiah. Instead you get Leonard Cohen’s oftcovered song “Hallelujah.” He didn’t know the difference, and anyway the difference likely wouldn’t have made a difference to him. He was inspired by reading Cohen’s lyrics, and decided to adapt a version about Mia, the Lego veterinarian.

Friends and family, I give you the new “Hallelujah”, just as Dante typed it:

Now I’ve heard there was a secret med
That missy made, and it pleased the vet
But you don’t really care for meds, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth checkup,
the fourth complete health restore
mia instructing the baffled aunt sophie.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

You felt fine but you needed x-rays
You say x-rays, dear missy?
Her x-rays were perfect,
She loved you,
but then in came a call:
“help! our puppy is sick!”
And she healed the puppy completely.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
for mia king of vets
I don’t even know the name
but she’s healed just the same
There’s a healing blaze
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
every one that mia speaks.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
and I called the heartlake vet.
“I need help!
my ‘hog* is slow!
and she put it in the ‘hog races
and now it runs as fast as lightning

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

*’hog means hedgehog

Follow-up Stories

I don’t have a lot of new stories to tell right now, but I can expand on some of the previous ones:

Everything Is Awesome

For Christmas, I was seriously thrilled to find a Lego cat set for him. (I mean really! A Lego cat! What could be more perfect for this boy?) I also ordered a pound of random Legos from one of those eBay sellers who offers random Legos by the pound. On top of that, my friend Tashi got him a set with the Ice Cream Machine from the completely awesome, totally-shoulda-been-nominated-for-Best-Picture Lego Movie. Oh, and Santa also brought the videogame version of the Lego movie.

When he got all these new Legos, he decided he wanted to mix them all together in a big box after following a couple of the recipes. He used the melange to make a bunch of his own creations, which he called “The Dragonfighters of England.” These are various brave Lego people, with various brave Lego ships, dedicated to battling the dragon who lives in our house. The dragon is furry, and cute, and fierce, and meows a lot. He is far more powerful than the Dragonfighters, so the merest sniff blows them away.

Quick aside: Here’s how Nimbus earned his reputation as a dragon. One day Laura brought home a bag of marbles as a gift for Dante, and for whatever reason, the marbles were marketed as “Henry Hobbit” marbles. Whenever one of these would drop on the ground, Nimbus would run up from wherever he was and start batting the marble and chasing it around. As a result, Dante nicknamed him “Smaug”, and he’s been a huge hobbit-chasing enthusiast ever since then. Lucky for the hobbits, they’ve figured how how to find safe haven beneath the oven.

Anyway, after the Dragonfighters’ day was done, they were disassembled, and Dante decided to sort all his Legos by color, so that he could make some more recipes. He did that (made the cat), and this week has been building a “Lego utopia” for his people – basically a campground and a playground, along with some vehicles. There’s a tent, a tree, a grill, a pool, a boat, a slide, a sandbox, etc. Laura and I have been participating on some of these, but the passion is Dante’s all the way.

Lego Utopia

Little Nero In Filmland

The “making things with computers” energy is going into mini-movies right now. The Lego video game (and movie) has a concept called “Master Builders”, which basically means that a character gathers up a bunch of Legos into a whirlwind, then builds something cool at super-speed. Dante got interested in reproducing this effect on video with himself as the builder, so he explored a couple of ways to do that.

First, he discovered a time-lapse feature on our tablet, with an adjustable interval. It works very well to create the super-fast building effect, and he’s also taken various movies of other things too – the gathering night, parts of our house throughout the day, and of course the cat. Then he started investigating a program called Nero, which I mainly bought for CD burning long ago, but which also has a video editing component. That video editor has some speed variation effects, which can slow down or speed up a piece of video up to 10x. He tried the high speed for master-build videos, but it didn’t come out as well as the time-lapse. However, the slow speed has proven to be lots of fun. He’s made slow motion videos of Lego contraptions exploding, balls flying through the air, and of course, the cat.

I’m Making A Note Here: HUGE SUCCESS

Dante finished Portal! And when I say Dante finished it, I mean that I gave no answers, no walkthroughs, no hints. I sometimes sat in the driver’s seat, especially for those puzzles which required quick reflexes, but at all points I asked Dante what to do, and he directed me. I was the instrument at times, but the exploration, examination, and experimentation was all his. It was very cool to see. Sometimes he could solve a puzzle straight away. Sometimes he’d bang away at a puzzle for a while and then take a break from the game, only to come back later and very quickly see what needs to be done. Sometimes he’d try a few things fruitlessly, then say, “Ooh, I have an idea.” I think that was my favorite one to watch.

I’d played the game before, so I had a pretty clear sense at all points of what the correct next step was, but I restrained myself from providing that info. It’s much more satisfying and empowering, not to mention a better lesson and a better mental exercise, for him to solve it himself. He even figured out the game’s final puzzle way faster than I did when I played for the first time!

Now we’re on to Portal 2, which is even more fun than the original. I’m loving the experience of seeing the game again through his eyes, especially since the game itself is so completely entertaining. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of its cast members turned out to be an Academy Award winner in a couple of weeks here…

Scratch Fever

A couple of years ago, Dante decided he wanted to learn more about computer programming. Now, when I learned to program, it was in BASIC, with a bit of Logo thrown in for good measure. But I guessed that in our brave new century, there are better alternatives available, and a bit of googling showed me that I was right. We found and downloaded a programming language called Scratch. Scratch was created by a group at the MIT Media Lab, with the intention of making a programming language for kids that would eliminate the frustrating syntax and compilation errors that can afflict new programmers.

They did this by using a “block programming” paradigm — rather than typing in commands, the Scratch programmer drags prefabricated command blocks from a staging area into a kind of “code corral” associated with a particular sprite (graphical image). Blocks can grow or shrink as needed, so you can drag new stuff into your code block and it will automatically accommodate whatever it needs to. Everything is graphical, mouse-oriented, and intuitive. It’s quite cool. It also helps that the Scratch logo, and default sprite, is a kitty. Within a few hours, 7-year-old Dante was making that kitty run around, meow, and respond to keyboard commands.

Dante’s interest in things tends to ebb and flow, and Scratch is no different. He would lay it aside for a few months, then return to it for a few days with new ideas for stuff to try, or just new motivation to poke around some more. At one point, Laura brought home a cool book from the library that rekindled his interest for a longer period. We even did a bit of Python programming over the summer, thanks to a different cool book.

Well, Scratch has enjoyed a big renaissance this fall, and this time we have Stargate to thank. Dante read the book Flipped in his literacy class, and was assigned a presentation project, to demonstrate his knowledge of the first half of the book. The teacher allowed a lot of latitude for the format of this presentation, so when Dante proposed making it in Scratch, she signed off. He ended up doing two different Scratch presentations on Flipped, one for each half of the book. These presentations featured stick figures, animation, dialogue, drawings done with a mouse, and adorability.

A few weeks later, he was assigned a larger project as a part of his social studies curriculum. They’re studying Colorado history this year, and the kids were to make a diorama depicting some early historical period of their choosing. The rubric for the assignment included showing people doing an activity, animals, plants, housing, tools, and so forth. As it happens, his literacy teacher is also his social studies teacher, which perhaps paved the way for him to propose doing a Scratch diorama instead. The teacher agreed, so he created a project called “archaic colorado” (capitalization is his arch-nemesis) in Scratch.

Wanna see it? Well, you’re in luck, because Scratch allows its users to share their projects on the web. I can’t embed it, but here’s a link to the project — click the green flag to start the presentation. It’ll loop forever, so you don’t have to stick around for the second showing. I think it came out pretty well — hope his teacher agrees. :)

Crazy Contraptions

I asked Dante what I should write about next in this blog, and he said, “I’ve written from Nimbus’s point of view, and now I think you should try your hand!” I demurred, suggesting that I don’t want his blog to turn into the cat’s blog. So I asked again what I should write about, and he said, “How about my Lego crazy action contraptions book?”

So here’s a little background. Every year, Stargate has a book fair — essentially a fundraising opportunity for the school, in which Scholastic brings a bunch of merchandise into the Stargate library, and a portion of the sale proceeds go back to the school. Most of this merch is books, though there are also a variety of gimcracks, toys, and book/toy hybrids. One of these hybrids caught Dante’s eye when he visited the book fair: a book of Lego projects which included all the Legos needed to make the projects.

Well, we always like to support the book fair, and the book cost just about what we wanted to spend, so Dante is now the proud owner of Lego Crazy Action Contraptions. It’s been a hit. The text is genuinely fun and funny, the instructions are good, and the projects are pretty cool. I came home yesterday to find him excitedly buzzing about a “No-Donkey Donkey Cart” he’d made. This is essentially a platform on wheels, with a rubber band inside, wound by a long axle. You wind it up, set it down, and the wheels turn, making the cart move. He took it apart before I could get a picture of it, but here’s a video of one being assembled with the help of a cat. Next best thing. (In fact, this guy seems to have uploaded a whole bunch of videos of his cat interacting with various projects from this very book. God bless the Internet.)

The next day he’d built a “Squeezeclaw Grabber”, and I did get photo evidence of that:

Lego grabber compressed

Here it is in its compressed form

Lego grabber extended

And here it is fully extended

Hooray for Legos! We’re also having a blast with various Lego video games — these are great because they have cooperative play modes built in, so we can play together without having to take turns or compete. Plus, although there’s plenty of battling and action, the destruction feels funny rather than violent. It’s just Legos flying apart! If anybody out there has recommendations for other cooperative games aimed at the 8-12 age bracket, I’m all ears.

In other news, Dante is thrilled that Thanksgiving Break is finally here — he gets next week off school. He and Laura have decided that this week will be “Frozen Dead Turkey Guy Days”, modeled after the Frozen Dead Guy Days festival that takes place annually in a nearby mountain town. Events so far have included:

  • The Turkey Leg Toss: Throwing a plastic turkey leg at a set of targets for points.
  • Creation of Fruitants: Dante has a set of wooden fruit pieces held together with velcro, which we recombined into fruit mutants, sworn to protect and feed a world that hates & fears them
  • Targeting The Turkeys: Dante drew a turkey and a turkey leg in Google Drawings, printed them out, and set them on our living room floor. Then we took a bunch of plastic food up to the top of our skywalk (we have kind of a bridge running across our upper level, looking down on the living room shopping mall-style), and we dropped the food onto the pictures. The rules were that hitting the turkey was worth 50 points, but hitting the turkey leg incurred a -25 point penalty. (Or a 25 point penalty, if you want to be pedantic about it.) Of course, this is Dante, so the rules got more complicated after that, as they do.

Oh, and for a school assignment to write a story, he wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure story about Nimbus! His initial draft was very fun but a bit woolly, so now we’re working on tightening it up for a final draft, due after Thanksgiving. Okay, I guess that sort of counts as cat news. So now that I’ve breached the barrier anyway, here’s a video of Nimbus in our bathtub:

Nimbus Snowdrop

I swear this blog will be about Dante again soon, but there’s a thread still hanging from the previous posts: the cat’s name! So let me wrap that up with a little summary written by Laura:

Introducing our sweet kitten, and his new name — Nimbus Snowdrop Wilson. We chose the name “Nimbus” because:

  • nimbus means: the type of cloud that yields precipitation, either snow or rain (and our kitten has white fur on his chest and face that looks like snow softly falling)
  • nimbus also means: a scientific term for a halo, a circle of white in the sky which is an optical phenomenon produced by ice crystals; also, nimbus means an artistic representation of a halo, or a ring of light, surrounding a person in artwork (and we adopted our kitten from the shelter, Angels with Paws, so the halo imagery is pertinent)
  • more generally, nimbus also means: the cloud, aura, or atmosphere surrounding a person or thing (and our kitten brings a lovely, sweet presence to our home)
  • also, a cumulonimbus cloud is a tall cloud mass with darkness on its sides and lower portion, along with high cottony white parts (and our kitten has dark tabby stripes and swirls, in addition to his fluffy white front and paws)
  • besides, a cumulonimbus cloud can bring thunder (and our kitten has a sonorous, rumbly purr)
  • and yes, the nimbus 2000 is a flying broom in the Harry Potter series

And we chose “Snowdrop” for his middle name because:

  • the snowdrop is a beautiful, small, white flower, with petals that generally hang down (all four of our kitten´s paws are soft white, and he often sits with his two front paws placed neatly together – so they look quite like the petals of a beautiful little snowdrop flower)
  • snowdrops are one of the first flowers to bloom in spring; they may look rather delicate, but in fact they are rather hardy plants, often poking up and blooming despite the snow remaining on the ground (and our kitten was born in March to a mama cat who needed to be helped by the shelter)

Any questions? :)

New Room, Pictures, and Video

t.k. here. Today my humans introduced me to a new room, which is a bigger expansion of the Room. I thought it would be a new big room, but instead it just makes the Room even bigger! Did I tell you how big it was?

Well, anyway, here are some pictures. Here’s me:

DSC01952

Here’s an extreme close-up of my face:

DSC01953

Here’s my smallest owner petting me:

DSC01955

Finally, last but most, here’s the video:

Once again, more blog posts coming soon. Bye!

[This blog post brought to you by Dante channeling t.k.]

Cat Dancer

Hello. It’s t.k., our new cat here. I would like to tell you about something. What happened is I was in Angels With Paws, a cat shelter, for a long while. And then, I got taken home by people. Apparently “home” is a room… the BIGGEST room I have ever seen in my WHOLE LIFE! In fact, they just added a new part and made it EVEN bigger. That’s for another post.

But anyway. I think it’s fun, but the humans think it’s naughty, to scratch on the new king bed, although I just got a thing called a scratching post that’s nice to scratch on too, and I’m slowly transitioning. I also like to walk across my humans’ heads every two hours in the night and wake them up. But the best part is the toys.

“Toys” are little things that are so fun to play with! Here’s a list of some toys:

  • There’s this little thing that my humans hold and then it shines a red dot on the ground, which is so fun to chase! I can run pretty fast. Videos coming soon, and so are pictures.
  • And there’s also this rainbow-colored toy, which is also very fun to chase around.
  • There is also this green string with a butterfly on the end of it, which is pretty cool.

But my favorite one of all is something called a “Cat Dancer.” It’s basically some sticks on a string, which my humans have lots of fun games with, like the “circle run,” where my human moves my cat dancer all around and around in circles and I chase it until I get dizzy! Or I catch it. And there’s the “high jump,” in which my owners hold my cat dancer up high and then I make an amazing leap and for some reason my smallest owner imitates it. And last but not least, there’s another function of the cat dancer: the “cat-apult”, in which my human curls it up and drags it and I chase it until suddenly it springs around all over the place and I get confused, but then I chase it some more.

Alright, that’s the end of this post. More posts are coming soon! Bye!

[This post brought to you by Dante, channeling t.k.]