STEM + Art = STEAM

Standard

STEM subjects are the areas that most big players in economy, education and industry consider to be the plenipotentiary, from which all other priorities should follow. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and studies in these areas are comparably well funded, well supported, and ultimately, well paid, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to get people interested in investing their own time in them.

As an Engineer that taps all 4 of the STEM roots, I may be biased, but I tend to agree with the STEM structure, and have always looked at the STEM studies as the most important. I too, often struggle to break down why I like what I do, when talking to my friends and have almost given up on talking about STEM subjects that can’t be tied in with sports or videogame culture.

It’s tough to ignore the fact that there’s a perceived lack of a conventional “human” aspect in the four pillars of STEM. There’s a stigma that these areas are cold, black-and-white, robotic and inhuman. For this reason, many will look on at the STEM studies and instantly think “that’s not for me” or “I don’t do math” or other damning thoughts to that effect. The children of STEM will always try to get across the reality that everything to do with Mathematics or Science is equally as creative, evocative and emotional as any movie, statue or painting that others would consider to be more “human” things to admire and appreciate. From Six-Flag rollercoasters and Las Vegas water fountains, to Large Hadron Colliders and lab-grown organisms, STEM ventures are the pinnacle of human endeavor, and something that everyone is involved with, whether they realize it or not.

“Art is in everything”, “Art Imitates Life” and all of those other cliche phrases have always been the cry of artists and creative types, who are determined to prove to the average man in the street that they are part of it, and to the same extent, STEM’s advocates are tortured by the knowledge that their work is used by everyone but always with a line between the creator and the user.

Joined at the hip, by the same communicative issues; a campaign has emerged, to add Art to the STEM core, creating STEAM.

The idea is that Art and Design are of equal importance to the STEM studies and that together, they can push their own boundaries and bring more people who traditionally “Aren’t into art” or “Don’t get Science” into the equation.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan, and, in a way, jealous of the Otaku culture in Japan with the likes of Otona no Kagaku, the “Science for Adults” series that encourages learning and creativity beyond the school walls.

I must admit, that I personally have been a “Don’t do Art” person, and built the same rift between myself and the creative, but the more I look at it; the fewer differences I see.

The drive to make Art and Design an essential study, paired with the rest of the STEM is championed by many big organisations and personalities and is making waves across Europe and America. The likes of StemToSteam.org and the i.am.angel Foundation, headed by superstar will.i.am have seen changes in classrooms, from Raspberry Pi and arduino workshops in schools, to the Arkyd project, which plans to grant open space telescope access to students, pushing creativity, model making and design, whilst also encouraging interests in the rest of the STEM community.

In short, art’s creativity proves itself to be a driving force in innovation, granting a whole new dimension to how people engage with the core studies.

Alone, STEM and Art have always struggled to engage, but together, we’re already seeing how great they are at amplifying each other, and breaking down the barriers between the public’s perceptions and their actual potential.

Check out RISD.edu to learn more.

Advertisements

The narcissism of “No Make-up Selfies” and how to actually help Cancer Research

Standard

This week, the in-vogue Facebook post has been the “no make-up selfie”. For the 8 people who’ve evaded it; girls are nominating each other to take a selfie, without make-up, in the name of breast cancer. The campaign started thanks to a partnership between Dove and CRUK.org. Initially, the idea was to text BEAT to 70099 and donate £3 to Cancer Research and use the selfie to spread the message. In no time at all, the donation element disappeared altogether, and it merely became an excuse for people to show how great they looked without make-up.

We’ve seen stuff like this before; changing your profile picture to your favorite cartoon character for the NSPCC, revealing the color of your pants for testicular cancer and so forth. In all fairness, it’d be hard to refute how effective they are, they instantly send social media into a frenzy, but often for the wrong reasons.

Donating minimal time and money to a cause, these picture campaigns seriously undermine the hard work of the real campaigners for charities; the marathoners, the scientists, the silent donors and the canvassers. It’s loud, obnoxious, narcissistic…and gets very little done.

Many people have already noticed the gap between posting a selfie and helping Cancer Research, with some people removing their photos, others arguing their validity, and others, still, turning it into an all out gender war. I’m steering clear of my news feed as we speak, due to the selfie-gate scandal running rife.

The psychology behind it is pretty straightforward – most of us feel like we don’t do enough for charity, so when given the opportunity to do something that costs no money and takes no time to absolve the inherent guilt, many will jump at the chance. As a bonus, you get to do something vain, gratuitous and in this case, with the false impression of martyrdom.

The sad thing, is that there is so much potential behind the campaign to actually create something good and helpful.

If you feel the urge to take part, here are some ideas, in order to turn your no make-up selfie into something more constructive.

  1. Before taking the selfie, take the time to buy a Cancer Research ribbon, and wear it in the photo, solidifying your commitment by showing you have given to the charity yourself
  2. Post the selfie with a screenshot of your donation and a message of “Text BEAT to 70099 to donate to CRUK”
  3. Post the selfie with a link to Cancer Research UK (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/)
  4. Post the selfie with guidelines on how to check yourself for cancer
  5. Post the selfie and collect sponsorship to go to work the next day make-up-less
  6. Post the selfie, and offer to run a Cancer Research marathon if it gets enough likes/shares/comments

Also, don’t forget to include the hashtag #BeatCancerSooner

Despite the negative twist, Cancer Research are seeing an increase in donations, but with your help, the message could still be kept positive and make all the more difference.

There’s a very selfish craze going on right now, disguised as Cancer Research, and there’s potential to make it something great. If you have any other ideas on how to improve it, please add them in the comments section.

Review: Swiss+Tech mini multi-tool keyring

Standard

I’m a huge fan of the Leatherman range of tools, utilizing a Leatherman Wave on a regular basis, but quite often, they’re almost too useful.

On my Wave, I have a can opener, 2 multi-bit screwdrivers, a wood-saw, a 3-in-1 file, 2 knife options, a ruler…the list goes on! All the extra stuff fitted to the fancy pair of pliers means that overall, they’re bulky, heavy and, for quick jobs; a little excessive. Whether you’re wearing it in a poser-pouch on your belt, carrying it your pocket or stuffing it into your kit-bag, it’s all weight and space, even with the smaller, Skeletool range.

Ohio-based keyring innovators, Swiss+Tech offer a variety of lightweight solutions, from 4-in-1 screwdrivers to bizarre, secret keys, but the one I’m testing out is their mid-ranged, 9-in-1 Micro-Plus keyring.

swiss-tech_micro-plus

It’s about the size of a standard keyfob when folded away, and cleverly uses the aperture of the pliers, and some magic, origami trickery to latch itself onto your keyring. When unfolded, it provides a choice of four, sturdy, screwdrivers (#1+, #2+, #1-, #2-), pliers, wire cutters/strippers, sheet shears, and an imperial rule; smartly disguised as a grip. The keyring has been beautifully cast, polished and coated and feels like a good quality tool that you’d expect from a top-end toolmaker, so much so, that it comes with a lifetime warranty, something typically reserved for the likes of Snap-On tools.

I’ve tested everything on it except the sheet shears, which I can’t see being used on anything thicker than aluminium tape. Everything else on the tool did what it was made to do, although I’d have to be really desperate to use the wire stripper/cutter tools on it, as they weren’t fully up for the job.

swiss-tech-micro-plus-tool-400px-400px

The whole thing comes in a tidy stuff-tin and is available in a range of different finishes from around $9.99. They also have a less fiddly, 6-in-1 Micro-Tech and a more fiddly, 19-in-1 Micro-Max, if you’d like to branch out.

Do you know what the best thing about Humble Bundle is?

Standard

Everything.

Humble Bundle is a company dedicated to three main things; donating proceeds to charity, getting revenue directly to the game developers, and providing gamers with a host of games and gamer gear at a fair price.

The idea is simple; Humble Bundle pile together a host of games, soundtracks and downloadables, for a limited amount of time, and you decided how much you want to pay for them.

The premise hinges entirely on honesty and generosity, and is very open to being exploited, but despite the risk of everyone paying the minimum amount (you can pay any price you want), gamers have shown that they’re committed to the cause, consistently paying over the odds for the packages.

If you pay over the average amount, additional games and add-ons are thrown into your bundle too, driving up the average and perpetually aiding the cause.

Not only do you choose your price; you also choose where it goes. Once you’ve valued the bundle, you choose what percentage of the money goes to the developers, what percentage goes to charity and what percentage goes to the people at Humble Bundle too.

They put out gamer bundles, indie bundles and right now, their forth mobile bundle, featuring everything from Catan to Vector, to Gunslugs (if you pay above average). A personal favorite of the current bundle is Rainbow-Six-esque, Breach and Clear.

breachandclear610

Charities donated to include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child’s Play

Follow them at @Humble or check out HumbleBundle.com for more info

Geekstore Spotlight – Insert Coin

Standard

It’s no secret that I spend an ungodly amount of time playing Street Fighter on the weekends; so much so, that I now have a ritual when it comes to playing. I pour myself a cup of coffee, check the batteries in my fight-stick, and most importantly, roll up the sleeves on my Ryu dressing gown from Insert Coin.

142_1

If the name sounds familiar; Insert Coin were the guys and gals who launched the original, and virally popular, Monteriggioni – Class of 1499, Assassin’s Creed hoody, complete with the signature peaked hood back in the day. I remember it well, because, much to my frustration, it was always sold out.

The stuff you pick up on Insert Coin is all fully licensed, gamer merch, catering to gamers old and new. I’ve picked up tee’s with stealthy, old, Golden Axe references, modern, Halo in-jokes and also much more blatant, simple Sonic stuff, but all of it has a quirky, “home-grown” kind of feel to it. You know that if somebody in the street spots the game it’s from, they’re going to comment on it. I put this down to it looking more low-key and subtly geeky, when compared to the “G33K” emblazoned stuff that you’d pick up on the high street.

A personal favorite deal of mine, back in my student days, was their “Mystery Box”. You threw them a pile of money and your t-shirt size and they sent you a random handful of their t-shirts, always worth more than you’d spent. It was a great way to pick up a quick, cheap wardrobe of geek chic, and since all their designs were good and trustworthy; you could buy with confidence. Sadly, the option seems to have disappeared from their store. I hope it comes back.

From Albert Wesker – S.T.A.R.S button downs to Dreamcast-shaped messenger bags, they have it all. They ship all over and add new items pretty frequently too. They don’t have a huge amount for girls, but again, they’ve began branching out more and more;  personal favorite of my girlfriend over at Tough Cookies, is their nerdy leggings range.

181_1

Of all the stuff we’ve got piled up here, from hoodies, to t-shirts, to dressing gowns, everything has been of great quality and has been made to last. You’ll notice that their non-sale stuff costs a little more than a lot of online t-shirt stores, but there’s a significant difference in quality. I have stuff picked up from other online geek stores (rhymes with “for shoe-man sheeples”) that’s half the age, half as used and twice as worn-looking as the stuff I pick up from Insert Coin. Also, they have a tonne of stuff on sale, and almost always have a discount code doing the circuits. Follow them at @InsertCoinTees or listen to gamer podcasts like Rooster Teeth’s cast on iTunes, and chances are you’ll come across a 5-15% discount along the line.

Check them out at insertcoinclothing.com

April 5th – International TableTop day!

Video

April 5th is International TableTop day!

Spread the word, pick a game, throw a party; do what you can to make TableTop gaming a stable part of your social life and get your friends to geek out! You can host a games session of your own, or find one to join in on at tabletopday.com or by searching for the hashtag #TableTopDay

I think for this International TableTop day I’ll be trying out the Game of Thrones board game, as I’ve heard it’s really well designed and comfortably complicated 🙂

Let me know you ITTD plans in the comments 🙂

4e0fb09ca0ef50957e5019a7f34fa607

Chaos Rings – Mobile JRPG (Review)

Standard

When I saw that Chaos Rings was a Japanese RPG, designed by Square Enix, starring a blonde-haired, armor-clad hero with a sword over his shoulder, I assumed that JRPG clones had gone full circle, and now even Square Enix were making Final Fantasy clones; inspired by their own games. I never thought I could be so far from the truth.

Yes, it has a lot of superficial similarities, they could have even called the lead “Squall Jr” and I would have accepted it, but Chaos Rings takes place in a realm far from the Final Fantasy universe. For starters, the plot is about as linear as they come…in a good way. Linear is typically a word, in game design, that’s steeped with negativity, but with Chaos Rings, this just isn’t the case; it’s actually really refreshing. Rather than the hours and hours of back and forth that are typically found in JRPG games, particularly Final Fantasy games, you run a specifically designed gauntlet, perforated by mini-bosses, big bosses and even strategic, evenly matched 2v2 battles against ingame rivals.

ChaosRings_3774

Despite the weird “please touch” invite on the start screen, it’s surprisingly well presented. Without giving away the plot; you are plunged into a very straightforward story, not of adventure; but survival, with a very clear objective and little in the terms of residual plot to chew through. This makes for a fast-paced, always-action rpg, which makes for a really nice change.

The battle system is somewhat unique from the usual turn-based, Final Fantasy style sequences. You’re only ever in a team that’s 2 heroes strong, and you’ll take on between 1 and 3 enemies per battle. During battle, you can choose, at the start of each turn, to fight individually, or as a pair, each with their own advantages, and at the end of each battle, your HP is fully restored (although your Mana isn’t).

What this means, is that the developers are able to put much tougher enemies in, which all require tactical thought, and all have the potential to deliver a fatal KO, and if you don’t maximize your turn, even a handful of small monsters can take you down. This is a great way of weening out that desire, from many turn-based RPG fans, to simply grind and then hammer the attack button in small battles; every moment can be as tactical and rewarding as a boss battle. To an extent, the enemies evolve around you as you advance, but one of the great features in Chaos Rings, is that you can choose what level your foe is, at the beginning of every dungeon. Granted, this means some players can take the easy route, but if you want a real challenge, the option is always there.

unnamed

The Solo/Pair mechanic, at the start of each turn, can make for some interesting strategies, and again, can make the difference between a win and a loss. As a pair, you are vulnerable to both your heroes taking damage at the same time, but MP costs are split between both characters, as are item costs, and seemingly, you’re blocks are more effective. This makes for great buffing and healing options, but against a powerful boss, it can prove to be a terminal flaw in your plan, if timed incorrectly.

Chaos Rings, like the other Square Enix games is a little pricey, and comes in at a hefty £7.99 on Windows Phones, (£5.49 on iOS), but arguably, you get what you pay for, I’m currently 6 hours in on one of the 2 main storylines, and judging by the achievements, there’s another 2, hiding in the wings.

If you like your JRPGs, and think you’ve seen it all, I’d strongly recommend Chaos Rings; it has a lot of familiar nodes, but still manages to bring a lot of new tricks to the table, telling a pretty decent story along the way too. Also, if you’re an iOS user, sequels have already been released in the Chaos Rings series. Personally, I can’t wait to see if they make it over to Windows…even if they do cost £8 each!