Archive for June, 2010

Review By Kids, For Kids: Blockland

 

If you like legos, I think you will like Blockland.  Blockland is a game where you build with bricks and create structures.  You can also make the bricks do things like disappear or set off traps.  You can create your own world, just like with legos, but in Blockland, the legos are interactive, such as guns and bows that actually shoot bullets and arrows.  You can also create a Deathmatch where everyone kills each other and see who is the last one left standing, or you could make a farm, with animals that move and do things.  The possibilities are endless with Blockland.  However, I do think that the online servers that you can join might not be the best for kids.  Some of these servers may contain inappropriate language.  But you can still play by yourself or start your own server for people around the world to join.

With Blockland you can also create your own weapons and maps to play on.  Blockland uses TorqueScript, a coding language.  If you want to learn TorqueScript like I have, you can make new weapons, maps, scripts, or vehicles.  Blockland only costs $20 for a lifetime membership, so overall I think it’s a good deal.

Reviewed by Nick

A little more information about Blockland 

It’s 94 degrees with high humidity outside, and all my boys are cooling off inside playing Blockland.  They spend hours working with friends from all around the world building their own multiplayer games.  Today, it’s a Call of Duty Deathmatch server, with Red Team versus Blue Team.  They’ve designed their own lego brick style weapons, characters, buildings, and maps, and now they’ll play the game they built.

Blockland is a non-competitive multiplayer sandbox-style construction game – like playing with legos on the internet.  You can play the freeware version, which is limited to 150 bricks, to get a feel for the game.  Or, you can unlock the entire game by buying a lifetime membership for 19.95. 

According to Wikipedia, Blockland is built on the Torque Game Engine and was developed by Eric “Badspot” Hartman for released in 2007.

Blockland allows users to write add-ons for the game to share with other players. Generally an add-on will consist of new building blocks, weapons, maps or items.  While Blockland is not open source, all of the default vehicles and weapons in the game use the add-ons system so players can examine working examples to help them learn about how to modify the game.

Structures can be built in a single-player or multiplayer setting.  The game also features a variety of vehicles players can control, weapons, saving and loading of constructions, automated construction through macros and a mini-game system. The minigame system enables users to create configurable and self-contained game modes using options and then play in the world they create.  These can range from a simple deathmatch to a zombie survival game to Capture the Flag. This system can allow players on a server to be in a minigame while the others continue to build. Any player who buys the game can create a server. A standard server is able to hold up to 32 players.  Blockland uses a trigger and event-based system to create basic interactive objects such as light switches, missile launchers, collapsing brick structures, or arcade-like games such as Pong. Players can also script triggers and events.  Blockland features an add-on system to aid users in managing custom content, such as weapons, vehicles, types of brick effects, player commands and game modes.

Using RTB (Return to Blockland), you can find high quality add-ons you can download in game that have been screened and approved by the RTB moderators.  And, if you have questions, RTB forums are better moderated than Blocklands, so there is less swearing and attitude.

Where is LEGO in all this?  Why isn’t this a LEGO game, if you’re building with lego bricks?  According to Wikipedia, the creator of Blockland, Eric Hartman was in talks with LEGO early on, but nothing came of it.  LEGO is currently working with NetDevil to create an online multiplayer LEGO game, called Lego Universe, to be globally distributed by Warner Bros.  Delayed again and again since 2008, Lego Universe is currently scheduled to be released by October 2010, and is currently in Beta testing.

By all appearances, Lego Universe will be quite different than Blockland – it has brick building, but it also has a storyline, a cast of characters, plots and quests, and is more of a RPG (role playing game) in a LEGO designed and created world.  Whereas Blockland is all about building, connecting with friends, and created your own world.

So check out Blockland, for free.  And if you like it, go for the $19.95 membership.  Get creative.  Build with bricks.  Create elaborate towns with castles, moats, blacksmith shops, campfires.  Create  games – visit the arcade servers.  Create maps with oceans, mountains, rivers, trees.  Learn how to create and script add-on’s, or mods, and minigames.  It can be as easy or challenging as you want.  Play on open servers with people from all over the world.  Or, password protect your server, and just play with friends.  You can even play just local LAN, with only the computers, laptops, and netbooks in your house on the server together.  The possibilities are endless, for endless fun.

Blockland free version:  recommended for ages 6 and up.
Blockland $19.95 paid version:  recommended for ages 10 and up.

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How to set up an Intex above ground Easy Set pool

I don’t know about you, but where we live, summer gets HOT.  And humid.  And with our good-sized crew of kids (plus friends) and a home-based small business, having our own pool rocks!

This is our third year setting up Intex Easy Set pools, and our first year getting one perfectly level.  I’ve used the instructions that come with the pool, that just say “set up on level ground”, and have discovered there are NO perfectly level spots in our backyard.  They LOOK level, but are not.  I’ve researched a wide variety of online instructions on how to level an above ground pool, and made our own adjustments.  Finally, we have success.  And it’s SO much better, and so worth the extra trouble.

You’ll need:

Shovel
Sod scraper (optional)
A level (the longer, the better)
(2) 2 x 4 x 8’s
(2) small rectangles of plywood
6+ screws
Drill
Pool (with ladder)
Tarp (comes with pool) or roll of 6 mil plastic sheeting
Scissors
Easy access to hose and water spigot
Access to GFI outdoor outlet
Air compressor/hand pump inflater
A penny (coin)
Pool test kit
Pool chemicals

Step 1:  Find out your zoning requirements before you buy the pool.  Call your local building code enforcement office.  Some areas (like ours) have many different requirements, depending on the size of the pool – barriers (fencing), ladders, self closing latches, pool and door alarms; they also typically charge a fee for a pool permit.  If you don’t get approved, they WILL make you take it down.  (Time = 10 minutes)

Step 2:  Determine what size pool you need.  Intex makes 8 ft to 18 ft Easy Set pools.  How many people will you have at a time in the pool?  Don’t forget friends, and you will want some room to move around.  We’ve had all three sizes, and would recommend the 8 ft for 2-4 kids, the 12 ft for 2-6, and the 15 foot for 2-8 kids.  Keep in mind the pools are measured by their base, so for example, the 15’ pool measures 15 ft diameter for its base, with a 12 ft diameter for its top opening.  Also, the pictures on the box are edited and make it appear as if you can put more people in than in reality.  (Time = 5 minutes)

Step 3:  Figure out where you are going to put your pool.  Do you have enough room for the size pool you’re getting?  You’ll need easy access to a water hose, and to a GFI outdoor outlet (extension cords are NOT allowed).  You’ll also need space on all sides (at least 4 feet), a location not to close to trees (or be prepared for a lot of debris), and preferably lots of sun (to heat the water).  It is critical that you install your Easy Set pool on level, hard packed ground.  Nearly level is not good enough, and sand or loose soil will settle unevenly.  The pool will bulge to the low side, you will only be able to partially fill it, the filter will not be able to run correctly, and it will most likely suddenly collapse.  Don’t set your pool up on your deck; once filled, the water weight will be immense, and will likely cause your deck to bow.  (Time = 20 minutes)

Step 4:  Purchase your pool (if you haven’t already).  Watch the included DVD, and completely read through all pool and filter instructions.  (Time = 40 minutes)

Step 5:  Level the ground for the pool.  You will need to level the ground to within an inch, for the diameter of the pool plus 2 feet.  So, for a 15 ft pool, you’re looking to level at least a 17 ft circle.  Although I’ve heard a sod scraper works well, we didn’t have one handy and didn’t want to rent one.  Use a shovel to remove the sod.  You will need to check the levelness of the ground across the diameter.  Take a couple of 2 x 4’s, and join them together using a couple of small rectangles of plywood and some screws, so that you have a 2 x 4 x 16.  Lay it across your circle, and place a level on top of it.  Rotate your joined 2 x 4’s like a compass to check levelness of the entire circle area.  Keep scraping with your shovel, and checking with your level.  You will have to scrape down the higher areas to meet the lowest area.  I would NOT recommend filling in lower areas with sand, or dirt, as the weight of the pool will cause the ground to settle over time, and those areas will end up being lower after a while.  Be sure to remove any rocks or sharp objects, too.  This is the hardest part of setting up your pool.  If you actually have level ground, good for you!  This step ended up taking us 2 days.   (Time = 1 hours to 2 days)

Step 6:  Now, you have a level circle.  And a bunch of eager kids.  Carefully open up the box, and remove the pool.  Don’t cut it by accident.  It’s heavy.  Set it in the sun, to warm up the plastic, so it will be easier to maneuver.  (Time = 30 minutes)

Step 7:  Take out the blue tarp and position it over your circle.  (Time = 5 minutes)

Step 8:  Place the pool on the tarp.  Be sure to get the 2 filter openings (hose connections) angled toward your GFI outlet.  Try to center the pool – spread it out, and smooth out the floor as best you can.  Arrange the blue ring so it’s on top, facing up, and in as much of a circle as possible.  (Time = 10 minutes)

Step 9:  Inflate the blue ring.  Use an air compressor, or it will take forever.  Do NOT over inflate!  Don’t under inflate, either.  The tube will be firmer when the sun shines on it or it’s warmer out, and be softer at night or when it’s cooler.  If you over inflate the ring, and it’s hot and sunny, the ring may pop.  If you under inflate the ring, and it’s chilly, the pool may collapse.  The ring is what holds the water in.  And be sure you don’t puncture the ring; no ring = no pool.  Make it fairly firm, but not too firm or hard.  Best thing to do is always under inflate, and then add more at a later time.  (Time = around 30 minutes)

Step 10:  Make sure the pool drain plug is tightly closed.  Start to fill your pool with your garden hose.  Someone should get in the pool barefoot, and start to push the wrinkles outward.  The kids can help with this.  Check to be sure the pool is filling up evenly.  It should be as level as possible.  If you find you have 4+ inches of water on one side, and zero inches on the other, you will need to stop, and go back to Step 5 and level the pool area.  Really.  It’s best to do it right the first time, as your kids will be going crazy for pool water by now.  If you have 1 inch of water on one side, and zero on the other, that’s good enough.  (Time = 20 minutes)

Step 11:  Find the small bag with the flexible black plastic plugs (aka “strainer hole plugs”).  On the inside of the pool, plug the 2 filter holes with the black plugs.  (Time = 5 minutes)

Step 12:  Your pool is filling evenly.  Just leave the hose in, and wait.  As the pool fills, the walls will get higher and higher.  Kids can be in the pool at this point, but tell them to keep the hose in the pool, and not to make too big waves, or push on the sides.  You want it to fill as evenly and centered as possible.  Fill until the water level is up to the bottom of the blue ring.  (Time = 4 – 8 hours, depending on the size of your pool; the bigger the pool, the longer it takes to fill.)

Step 13:  While your pool is filling, put together the ladder and the pool skimmer.  The kids can help with this.  Follow the directions.  (Time = 30 minutes)

Step 14:  Pool is up, ladder is in.  Let the kids get wet for a while, if they haven’t already.

Step 15:  Unpack the filter.  Check the directions.  Get a penny, the 2 longer hoses, and 4 of the metal clamps.  You’ll need to connect the filter pump to the pool using both of the hoses.  One hose is intake (pool to filter), another is outflow (filter to pool).  + to +.  It’s marked on the pool, and on the filter pump.  Put 1 clamp on the end of each tube.  Connect the tubes correctly.  Check the markings again, to make sure you’ve got it right.  Tighten the clamps using the penny.  (UPDATE 9/2016: The Intex pool we bought this summer had plastic clamps with knobs you turn to tighten – much better!) Be sure to not over tighten – you just want them not to be leaking.  (Get rid of the floating pool skimmer unit – I’ve never been able to get it to work with the soft, ring pools, and you can burn your filter out if it gets tilted and stops sucking in water.  Also discard the shorter plastic hose – although it makes a great noise if you whip it in a tight circle; otherwise, not much use at all.)  (Time = 20 minutes)

Step 16:  Make sure the filter pump top is screwed on snugly.  Remove the 2 black plugs from inside the pool.  The tubes should fill with water.  Now you need to insert 2 pieces inside the pool, into the holes where you pulled the 2 black plugs out; insert the strainer piece in the intake, and the open hole piece in the outake. Unscrew the small knob set into the top of the filter lid.  Wait till water starts flowing out under the knob, then quickly tighten it back down.  (Time = 5 minutes)

(CHANGING THE FILTER: You will need to keep the 2 black plugs handy for when you need to change the Type “A” Filter Cartridge in the pool filter pump. Just unscrew the strainer and the open hole pieces inside the pool, put the plugs in, then unscrew the top of your filter pump. Take the old, yucky cartridge out, pop a fresh clean one in, screw the lid of the filter pump on tight, take the 2 black plugs out and put the strainer and open hole pieces back where they were originally. Be sure you unscrew the little knob on the top of the filter pump lid, to let out any air in the hoses/filter pump – unscrew it a little until no more air, and only water starts coming out, then screw it down tight, and you’re set to run the filter pump!) UPDATE 9/2016: The Intex pool we bought this summer had 1 outtake and 2 intakes, and dealing with the black plugs was a hassle, so, we finally figured out a super easy way to change the filter! Bring a table over to where your filter pump is. Carefully lift the filter pump up onto the table, leaving all the hoses attached. Unscrew the top of your of your filter pump. Pull out the old filter, put in the new one. Screw the lid of the filter pump on tight. Carefully lift the pump off the table and place back down on the ground. Unscrew the little knob of the filter pump lid, to let out any air; once water starts coming out, screw the little knob down tight. Done! Easy peasy! Oh, and move the table away from the pool, before the kids get any bright ideas. Also, buy enough Type A filters to be able to change them every 2 weeks while you have your pool up.

Step 17:  You’re now ready to run the filter pump.  Check the pool instructions for filter usage requirements.  We usually plug it in at night, and unplug it in the morning.  Do NOT run the filter while anyone is IN the pool.

Step 18:  Chemicals.  Educate yourself.  Read the instructions.  You’ll need to know how many gallons are in your pool.  You will need a pool test kit, and know how to use it.  Visit a pool store if you’d like to chat with someone and pick up a test kit, and a set of chemicals.  Or, do some online research and go to Walmart and get the test kit and chemicals yourself.  Generally, since Easy Set pools are so small, you just need to worry about chlorine, and not pH.  For our first pool, we got our test kit at a pool shop and spent some time talking to learn about pool care.  Now, we just buy chlorine granules at Walmart or Target.  Occasionally, you will need to “shock” your pool, which means to super-chlorinate your pool.  Read all chemical instructions carefully, store out of reach of kids, and put chems in the pool when there is no one around.  Do not breathe them, mix them, or get them wet.  Serious stuff, pool chems.  Use rubber gloves if it makes you feel more comfortable.  ALWAYS test the pool before the kids get in, to make sure the chlorine is below 3 ppm.  Always, always, always.

Step 19:  Talk with your kids.  Set the ground rules:  no going in the pool unless Mom or Dad says it’s ok, and knows you’re in the pool; no going in the pool until Mom or Dad has checked the chlorine level; play safe; don’t hold anyone under water; stop if someone’s crying; don’t sit on, straddle, or push down on the blue ring; don’t climb the side of the pool – use the ladder; no sharp objects in or near the pool; no sand in the pool; no pets in the pool; no peeing in the pool; no drinking the pool water; no diving; and no running and jumping into the pool (a boy slipped and was paralyzed doing this).

Step 20:  Always supervise anyone in the pool at all times.  And pick up enough A size filters to change the filter every 2 weeks.  Enjoy your pool!

UPDATE 7/8/11:  In the process of setting up our new pool for this year.  Got a 16′ x 42″ at Kmart $130 off, but was surprised to find this Intex pool did not include a tarp, pool skimmer and vacuum, or cover – it was pool, ladder, and pump only.  We ended up having to get a roll of plastic sheeting at the hardware store and used that under the pool. Luckily, we have our other items from last year. At least the ground is already leveled!

UPDATE 7/10/12:  Just finished setting up our new 15′ x 36″ Intex pool for this year. Ordered just the pool + filter from Target for $149, free delivery. Bought a roll of plastic sheeting and pool chems at Lowe’s. Had to spend a day re-leveling the pool site – removing the weeds that had grown, scraping down the dirt, picking rocks. We all worked together, and got it done quickly. Kids are really enjoying the pool with all the hot weather we’ve been having!

UPDATE 9/10/16: Bought a 15′ x 48″ Intex pool this year, which was great as we had a drought in our area, and local park swimming was very limited. Paid $270 for the pool, shipped free from WalMart, and included filter pump, drop clothe, and pool cover. See notes above: the metal clamps were replaced by easy-to-use plastic clamps. And we figured out a super easy way to change the filter. I had difficulty locating enough Type A filters, and had to order some from Amazon. Love our Intex Easy Set pool!

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What’s Hot: music – Old Ke$ha Parody

Serious silliness. My kids have been singing this while riding in the back of the van. They actually harmonize quite well. Thank you, Key of Awesome

Of course, there’s also been alot of Captain Crunch around lately, too…

Let’s punch, Cap’n Crunch.
Then we’ll eat his face for lunch.
Fly a kite, drink some sprite.
Here we go to sleep tonight.
Tik Tok.
Found a rock.
Gonna knock these poser’s socks off.
WOAH! THEY’RE PURPLE!
WOAH, WOAH OH OH OH!

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Review: Komaneko

Got an iPhone, iPod Touch, Droid Incredible, or, best-thing-ever, an iPad?
Got a preschooler, or elementary school aged kid?
Need something entertaining to watch on YouTube?

If so, you’ve got to check out Komaneko, an adorable Japanese stop-motion animation.  Perfect for little ones, and captivating even for big kids and adults.

Komaneko is a cat, made in stop-motion animation, that likes to make stop-motion animation films and lives with her grandfather in their home near the mountains.  She crafts her own characters and backgrounds, and sometimes, when she’s not looking, her creations come to life.  Sweet, with an amazing level of detail, a lovely original music soundtrack, and a thorough dose of humor, Komaneko reflects innocence, patience, and persistence, along with the importance of friendship.  “Komaneko” itself is made up of “koma”, meaning frame of film, and “neko”, meaning cat.

Although the clips are Japanese, there is no real “talking”, just some meowing and easily understandable sounds, so they are appropriate for any language viewers.

According to AnimeNewsNetwork, Tsuneo Goda conceived Komaneko in a 2003 short “Komaneko Hajime no Ippo” (Komaneko: The First Step) for the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography with his Dwarf production studio.

A full length movie, Komaneko: The Curious Cat, comprised of a series of animated shorts, was next in 2006.

Komaneko: The Curious Cat

2006, color, 1 hour, Japan

Komachan is a kind-hearted kitten who lives with her grandfather in a small house on a hill, who spends her time designing film sets for her dolls and making stop-motion animations with them and her 8mm film camera. Over a series of five episodes, this adorable cat, a stop motion animation herself, makes short films, grudgingly befriends a radio repairman’s son, and cheerfully befriends a strange creature who may be the Abominable Snowman. “Komaneko’s overarching theme is friendship which, coupled with the pleasant background music, delightful designs, enjoyable stories, and endearing characters, makes Komaneko: The Curious Cat just about the nicest thing I’ve ever watched in my life. One viewing is enough to turn even a cynic like me into a happy trooper. Komaneko has no dialogue other than the occasional meowing so it’s accessible to viewers of all ages and language backgrounds. It’s great for kids, and for adults like me who need to be periodically reminded by a stuffed cat that the world is a good place after all.” (Editor’s Pick, yesasia.com)

And just this past winter (December 2009) a new stop-motion animated feature film, Komaneko Christmas: The Lost Present, was released in Japan.

Although both movies have been released on DVD in Japan, there is no english version, yet.  Luckily, several of the animated shorts are available on YouTube, and are actually viewable on an iPad or mobile phone — often when we try to view a YouTube video on our iPad, it won’t work, it says “not formatted for iPad viewing”, and it’s frustrating to click on video after video looking for one to actually play. 

So, add Komaneko to your YouTube Favorite’s, and enjoy some sweet peace and quiet next time you’ve  got 10 minutes to wait with your little one.

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Hello world!

Woot!  Welcome to my world.  Crazy.  Kids.  Love.  Gratitude.

What’s hot with kids right now.
Video game, movie, book, and toy reviews – by kids, for kids.
Fast, tasty fixin’s to eat.
Save-my-sanity tricks and tips for parents.
Plus, a little bit of what’s going on in our lives.

Enjoy!

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