Depression – The Shadow Following Me.

In what seems to have become the norm for me now, this is another difficult post to write. Not because of the material, necessarily, but more because it involves making an admission to myself and, by extension, those who read this blog. Ordinarily, I try to avoid making distinctly “personal” posts. Instead, I try to direct the issue to a more generalised set of examples and then put in a little personal information. Instead, this is all about me.

The Cycle of DepressionI have recently been diagnosed as having chronic recurring depression. To those who know me personally, this probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It seems that those outside of it always manage to see the cycles much better than those on the inside of it all. But, there it is. What I thought was simply a lack of skills or ability to cope with the multiple stresses life was throwing at me, turns out to be a chemical imbalance inside my brain that means that I am physically incapable of dealing with a lot of what life gives me, without treatment.

Now, I know I shouldn’t feel bad for sharing the fact that I have depression. It’s not something to be ashamed of, and I’m not. What I am ashamed of is the fact that I let it get so far without asking for help, or without letting the people around me know what was going on before it got to this point. I had my suspicions. I knew something was up, but rather than heading to the doctor sooner, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t have time. I didn’t have the money. It’d all be fine if I could just get over this assignment, or that interview, or this appointment. There was always something else to be done.

My relationship with my partner suffered. My relationship with my child suffered. My uni work has suffered. My work life has suffered. It wasn’t until all this was pointed out to me that I realised how long this had been going on for.

This is the first week of medication. It’s been difficult. The days of lethargy, the headaches, the inability to sleep despite being so tired – they have all taken their toll. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. People know now, and can help when I need them to. If I falter, they know what is going on, rather than not understanding at all.

This is not a call for those who feel they may have depression to go get help. That sort of thing doesn’t really work. It doesn’t matter how many people say you seem depressed, until you make the realisation yourself it holds no validity. This is simply a statement that once you do seek help, it does get easier. Not every day, because there are still ups and downs, but bit by bit it gets easier. It gets much easier when you know you’re not being foolish, that there is a medical reason you’re up at three in the morning crying for no apparent reason. That there’s a physiological cause of that lethargy. And once you are armed with that knowledge, that makes it easier to cope. Day by day, one step at a time, you can break down that cycle.

#cmtygames101

I was fortunate enough this week to attend Western Australia’s first ever Community Games 101 workshop held at Perth’s SpaceCubed, run by Curtin lecturer, Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie.

It was an intensive two-day workshop, so there was little time to dilly-dally. After a gentle icebreaker exercise to get to know the other people in the room with us (a useful exercise when you’re going to be creating games with them), we stepped up and started making our first game, based on the Race to the End model.

This is your usual board-based type of game where all the players start somewhere and have to finish somewhere else. We broke into two teams and came up with very different results. Strangely enough though, both teams had a game mechanic wherein the board and rules changed. Perhaps that was because, as adult players, the “usual” board games is boring for us? Either way “Space Crash” and “Switchboard” both ended up going through the conceptualising stage, on to the prototype stage within a couple of hours. Just before lunch on day one, both games were ready for play testing. Now, that’s nothing if not incredible. From thinking up the rules and mechanics to making the game in a few short hours is an incredible feat for a group of people who had little knowledge of each other before entering the room, and had maybe not created a game before.

We play tested each others games, debriefed as “real game developers” would, and thought about how to iterate our games to come up with something better and fix the bugs.

We then popped outside and played a game of Gargoyles. For those not familiar with this game, take a look. No props, except for team designation bands, just people in a space playing. What could be simpler?! The inherent learning in this game is all about proximity and overcoming the fear associated with entering another person’s space to overcome a problem, namely getting your team to win. There are also lessons about collaborating and teamwork in a small space of time.

Heading back inside, we thought about the various reasons that had brought us to the workshop. Breaking, again, into two teams, we began brainstorming community games that would satisfy a general consensus of our interests.

Day two began with a short presentation by Kate of what a community game could look like, how it could work, and what it brought to the community.

We also played a game about the creation of a game, aptly named “Metagame”. Players are dealt a series of cards, with a pile of potential props in the centre of the table in front of them. Players take turns pitching a rule, utilising the instructions on the cards they have been dealt (points awarded as per the cards if theirs is the successful rule as voted by the other players). Rules cannot created a paradox, illogical loop or an otherwise unplayable game, then the universe is destroyed and the game is over. Needless to say, there was laughter as people pitched their wacky rules.

We then formed back into our teams from the previous afternoon, and continued working, brainstorming and prototyping, our games. By just before lunch, both team had working prototypes of their community games.

One team had come up with a local area narrative collection or challenge game, utilising QR codes and a “treasure map” of stories to collect in a specific area of a local council’s jurisdiction. Aimed at promoting local area awareness, it was customisable and adaptable for various events and end goals, all the while promoting knowledge of the immediate area and its people. Designed to make residents aware of the local history, local businesses, and local features, it seemed to me to be an wonderful way of gathering families together to explore their streets and go a little outside of their comfort zone to do that exploration.

The Zombies Are Coming! I Need To Get To Know You.

The Zombies Are Coming! I Need To Get To Know You.

The team I was part of came up with a collection-based game as well. Breaking a real space down into zones (in this case the various areas of the SpaceCubed collaborative space), players had to gather stories under the premise that the players were a crack force of humans. Being briefed at HQ, they then had to go out into the space and collect stories, feelings and re-enact random acts of kindness in order to develop a map of the humanity in the space. Those approached who didn’t want to take part, or who refuse to play along, were dubbed “Zombies”.

Aiming to reconnect people with the stories in the space they are occupying, and forcing human face-to-face interaction in an environment where people may well feel they are there to work on their own project, alone, we felt this was a fun and safe way for people to realise that we are edging towards a state of aware zombie-ism.

After being being run through each team’s games (and running our team’s game within the space), we then debriefed and got feedback to iterate the games and make them better.

So, what is a “community game”?

A community game is a space of play where in the community is engaged, rather than isolated, and where the Magic Circle of play has an embedded goodness in it. It fosters, instead of cutting, community ties and educates “under the radar”. By this, I mean, the lesson is not the objective. The lesson is incidental and may well not become apparent to the player until well after the games has ended.

So, what did I take away from the whole experience?

All those times I have been playing a board game or a card game, and I have thought “This could work so well in an urban space”, I now have the tools and knowledge to make that happen. All those times I was sitting wondering how to get kids to think about recycling or the environment in a way that wasn’t the same old boring ways that are taught in school, I can now make that happen. Any time I was sitting in a public space thinking everyone is so set in the routine of “look down, keep walking, rush rush rush” I now have the tools and knowledge to subvert that in a way that will make people smile, look up and realise there is something else going on in their world if only they would stop to smell the roses (stay tuned for that game! *lol*).

At then end of the workshop, we all realised that this was something that needed to happen in Perth. The community-game community is strong elsewhere, and has brought so much to other places of the world, that we thought it was high-time Perth joined in the game.

Stay tuned for more details on what community-gaming events are happening around Perth. If you would like more details on community games, let me know in the comments below. Have you played a community game and want to tell me about it? Cool!

Melissa won the Curtin University Department of Internet Studies scholarship to attend the Community Games 101 Workshop. The workshop was presented by Atmosphere Industries and sponsored by Curtin University, in conjunction with SpaceCubed, the Film and Television Institute (W.A.) and yelp!.

The “New” Media Misnomer

“New” media is a term being used by a variety of people and platforms to describe online tools for disseminating news. I am here today, to call an end to the madness, and suggest we stop calling it “new” and start calling it what it is: “just plain ole media”.

Why hello there "New Media"...

Why hello there “New Media”…

Let’s face it. The wen, the net, social media, email groups, newsletters delivered to your inbox, online video material, user-generated content… None of it is new anymore. I mean, sure. The number of years that the printing press has been around is a vastly larger number than the blink of an eye that we have all been online. Having said that, we have a new sense of time now, and these tools, in the new wibbly-wobbly time we live in, are old hat. Really. Let’s face facts. It’s a truth.

youTube has been around for eight years.
Online newspapers have been around for donkey’s years!
Email is 42 years old.

When will marketing executives and institutions wake up and smell the coffee? Calling your social media respondents “new media consultants” is silly. Having a “Head of New Media” is also silly. What do they do? Work just with the online tools, while another person sends off copy to print newspapers and magazines and television studios? No. That would be too much like the right hand operating with knowledge of the left hand. So why not have just “Head of Media” with a unified idea of what is going on? Makes much more sense to me!

So why do we still have scholarly journals using “New Media” like some sort of separation from media?

“New Media and Society”
“Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies Online”
“Journal of New Media and Culture”

I could go on and on listing them. What matters is these are clear signs that the scholars of the world still view online tools for spreading news as new-fandangled and shiny. It’s not that surprising as new ideas tend to take a long time to be integrated into the vernacular of academics. I have a theory that it would take five full rotations of chancellory for a new idea to be integrated fully and no longer seen as “new”, but that’s a story best left for another time.

So, can we please agree to stop the silliness of this “new media” nonsense? It’s not new. It’s here to last, and the sooner we stop using antiquated terms and start viewing it in the correct light, the sooner proper policy can be made governing its use (Again, another story for another time).

#savenetstudies – How will you make tomorrow better?

Firstly, a disclaimer:

I am very proudly a student of the only dedicated Internet Studies department in Australia. I am proud to be studying with such an amazing group of forward thinking individuals who see the sense in making a current study of the very real future. I am proud to be nearing the end of my undergraduate studies, and am looking forward to honours and post-graduate studies in the future.

What does not make me proud, however, is the fact that the powers that be at Curtin University have seen fit to implement a phasing out of university admissions for the degree and major in Internet Communications. They will, despite this, be keeping the course open through their affiliate Open University Australia.

Yes.
I’ll give that a moment to sink in.

They are dropping on campus and external admissions in favour of online admissions through a third party.

ImageCost cutting? Well, not really. When you consider that they still need the same number of tutors and lecturers to teach and online group, and that in an ever-changing subject constant research is needed, there’s no real way to save money for this.

But, I hear you ask, if I study online (as I have stated elsewhere) what’s the problem?

Good question. Why should I be getting fired up about this? Well, let’s make it simple.

When I started this degree, I wanted to just get a magical piece of paper. I just wanted a piece of paper that said I had stuck it out for three years. I didn’t even want Honours. I wasn’t looking to do any kind of Higher Degree.

One year in and I knew this was what I wanted. I wanted Honours. I wanted a PhD. I wantd to revisit that desire to teach I had back in high school. I wanted to lecture, and I wanted to lecture at the only Internet Studies department in Australia.

Now, let me be clear. This move is not shutting down the entire department. It is simply removing the option for students to enrol either on campus or externally through Curtin University. This means the only way you will be able to enrol in this degree from 2014 onwards, is through Open University.

But, let’s look at the patterns here.

They are removing an option for students to enroll into a course. This will mean that some people who might have looked at this unit as a way for them to improve their life, will be turned away. I know. But everything is online these days!

Let’s get real. Some people, even in this day and age of web-mediated everyday life, feel that left to their own devices to study at home, alone, without class times to meet and tutorials to attend, they will not be successful in their academic endeavours. I, for one, have had people look at me like I’m some sort of time management empress and super disciplined because I can study at home.

So, less people in your course. This will mean you have less money to spend on the course. If you have less money to spend on the course, you will need to make more and more cuts until there is no course to offer at all. I don’t think it’s that far a stretch to follow that.

Now, back to what makes the Internet Studies department, and the Internet Communications degree, so special.

There is no other course of study like this. There are other degrees (Communications, Media, Cultural Studies), sure, and some of them even have units that brush on the particular skills necessary for writing online. They do not look into the sociological issues surrounding internet and web use. They don’t look into the application of theories and concepts as applied to web use.

So what? The internet is just a thing we use. So long as we have people to make everything online work, what’s the problem?

So, internet addiction isn’t something that requires a definite working knowledge of how people and the internet work together?

Marketing online can just have old school marketing principles reworked to it?

Communities that work online don’t need people who have a specific skill set to manage them?

Copywriting for online audiences doesn’t require specific knowledge?

I think we get the point. You can’t just take a physical world idea and plonk it onto an online platform. It doesn’t work like that.

There is a petition. There is a Facebook group. The twitter hashtag is: #savenetstudies.

Want more information? Keep an eye on these groups. This is all the information we currently have. As more comes to light, it will be shared.

Bitcoin – The Way of The Future, or Just Another Fad?

So, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you will have at least heard about Bitcoin. It’s been hailed as the new virtual currency for the digital world. Now, I’m all for a move away from currency owned and controlled by government and banking institutions, but I’m not so sure this is the way to go. I decided to delve a little deeper into the mysterious beast of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin ImageBitcoin, in their own site, state that they is a peer to peer way of managing online transactions. It’s more of a collective of users, making it a decentralised system of currency rather than the old guard centralisd system run and operated by governments and banks.

 

It’s an open-source, and community-driven software system, that involves downloading the wallet of your choice, that even has its own currency-linked vocabulary!

So where did it all come from?

The history of Bitcoin is as short as it is mysterious. No one knows the true origin of the idea, as it was posted as a concept under a pseudonym. The idea was then taken up, proof of concept published and was further developed by a group, including the original proposer, who left the group, never revealing their identity. They simply gave their idea to the world. In 2011, the idea managed to capture some media attention, which sparked a bit of a buy in by a good number of people.

So, does it have enough staying power?

That remains to be seen. I personally believe the current economic market sees it as a bit of a fad. I think it will have a hard time gathering the traction it needs to remain in use and build up a good market. Having said that, I really do hope it sticks. It makes sense – a decentralised currency for a decentralised system of transaction and interaction. I can see a few potential stumbling blocks for it though.

The powers that be will see it as a threat to the status quo, once it gathers enough users. If the banks can’t buy in to it, how will they control the currency? They won’t be able to, and this will further cause turmoil. It runs in line with my previous musings on needing a huge shift in the entire way in which we think about money and economy.

Governmental taxes will continue to be a thing. This is unavoidable. So, while we may well shift away from centrally owned and operated systems of transaction, we will not be able to completely shift away from geographic boundaries. This may prove a bit of an issue as Bitcoin gathers momentum. Governments will probably hesitate to recognise it as an actual form of currency and, as such, you may have Bitcoin wealth, but you will need to transact in the “real-world” with “real-world” currency. The exchange rates will probably start off as a joke, with operations setting up to exchange Bitcoin to real coin and reaping the rewards of providing such a service.

After all is said and done, I am not an economist. I’m not a political scientist, although I do find it amusing that those educated in these fields are unable to make sense of it all. I’m not able to make properly educated guesses as to how the world will embrace Bitcoin. These are just my musings on a very good idea that I hope will come to fruition.

 

If you want to read up on Bitcoin, you can take a look at the following links:

Bitcoin.org

WeUseCoins.com

The Bitcoin Wiki

Edge of The Web 2013 – My Take.

The first thing I identified as I entered the conference location was that I was, undeniably, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Here I was, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed student interested in content creation and management amidst a sea of designers and developers.

In fact, that was the most asked question: “So, are you in design or development?” My most offered answer? “I’m a blogger…” Actually, I really wanted to have a shirt or a badge that said, “No, I’m not just a blogger. I am ‘in content’…” or something like that. I then thought it might be cool to have a button saying “Sure, you can code, but can you write?” as a way of setting a challenge to my fellow attendees.

Tao Te Ching; 64a. Care at the Beginning

How does this relate to Web Design? Go check out: http://alistapart.com/article/dao An oldie, but a goodie.

Edge of the Web is run by the AWIA (Australia Web Industry Association) and, as such, I can understand the focus being more finite than I might have hoped for.

The event gave me the chance to sit up the back of a room and listen to some of the best in the web industry give us their take on where we’ve been and where we’re heading. The two days crammed so much information into my brain that, unfortunately, by the end of it all I was afraid my brain was leaking out my ears. I took as extensive a set of notes as I could handle. Sadly, my typing speed, which is pretty good, was unable to keep up with all the great ideas being spread around like chocolate icing on a delicious mud cake of theory.

Essentially, I took away that we are hurtling at a great rate of knots toward a world where the end user is going to want more and more choices in the responsive design of the interfaces they are using. We may not be able to keep up with all the available platforms out there. So what do we do? We can try and keep up with it all, or we can do our best in what we know.

Another big issue that was being talked about a lot was the contentious point of outsourcing. Some saw it as an opportunity to create breathing space in order to work on those elements of a project you have a specialty in, allowing others to work their magic in their field of expertise. Others saw it as a path to the Dark Side and inevitable unemployment. As something of a freelancer, I can certainly see both sides of the argument. I would love to have a company with whom I have a working and sustainable relationship of give and take (they give me the work and I take it), but I can also see why that may not always work for them and why they may need to keep the content writing more in-house. It’s a bit surprising that there are arguments arising about it now, but I guess the freelancer or flexible work situation is growing in popularity, if not here in Perth then certainly elsewhere.

I also got the chance, on the first day, to catch up with a university colleague. It was nice to be able to put a face and voice to some words on a screen. We are both studying externally, mostly through online means, so it was nice to have some kind of face-to-face time. (Hi Rosie!)

So, would I go again? Most probably. While I may not have been their target audience, I certainly gained a lot of information – most of which I feel is still settling into place. Would I suggest others to go along? If you’re in the web industry, hells yes! If you’re in a related field, possibly. It was very focused on, as I said, a design/developer stream. I did suggest that next time round they include a “miscellaneous” stream for those of us who may not be strictly from those fields. Only time will tell.

 

You can read more about the Edge of the Web conference on Twitter, under the #EOTW and #EOTW2012 tags, and also here at their site.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Social Media. It’s a catch phrase that used to carry with it so much promise. You could keep up to date with friends across the world from the comfort of your home and in your own time. Then came the social games, which offered the chance to play games with all your online friends and gain in-game rewards for the amount of people you had attached to your “friends” list. Then came the gamification of knowledge, with its badges of honour for depth of knowledge as awarded by your peers. Then … Then came this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=D5fB5d2mqnc

Now, at first I suspected it was a parody, or a prank being played by a group of hilarious friends… Not so. I went to the website and had a look around.

Image

Looks fairly innocent, right? Well, let’s look further…

Image

Ummmmm… So, you’re just the platform on which this craziness can occur, but you accept no responsibility if anyone gets hurt, or if anything illegal happens.

THAT’S MADNESS!!!

See, this is the fundamental flaw that most people seem to not realise about the interwebs. All that stuff we skip past called the Terms Of Service? Yeah, that actually is just a document (for the most part) about how we, the user, accepts all responsibility for the stuff we do through these various services, but that the services themselves accept no responsibility for … well … much at all really.

Service outages? Not their problem.

Damage occurring from use of service? Not their problem.

Illegal activity performed on their service? Not their problem.

Making sure that all challenges are sane, safe and not illegal? Completely the user’s problem! Because we users have been so good in the past at keeping that in mind when doing stupid things on the intertubes.

I think this situation deserves:

Image

Now, I know that writing about this will provide the site with a multitude of hits, which is exactly what it wants in order to justify its existence. The reason I’m writing, rather than ignoring, is that people I know will sign up to this stupidity and then I’ll be forced to hear about it more… Also, people will sign up without reading the ToS (because that’s what we all do) and will get hurt, try to sue and be slapped in the face with the stupid fish.

Image

2012 – An Overview.

So, it’s the last day of 2012. We survived… Maybe. Perth certainly currently feels like it’s currently undergoing the fiery rage of the times of revelation.

The year coming it a close brings with it reflection on the year that was. It certainly has been a full and varied one.

This was my second year of full time university study. Not bad for someone who never thought they’d get through the first year. I very nearly have given up a few times, I don’t mind telling you. I suspect there are many who, in my situation would have so I have to pat myself in the back for powering through it all.

I have had trials and tribulations.2013
I traveled.
I attended a conference as a blogger.
I got myself a new job.
I got myself a new position in the same company that didn’t previously exist.
I have made friends.
I have realised I have more strength in my pinky toe than some have in their entire body.
I injured myself badly.
I learned some mad new skills.

It’s been a busy busy year.

I am ready for 2013. It’s going to be hard.

I’ll be taking on more study than is probably sensible. That alone scares me sober. Still, I’ll take each day as it comes.

I am not doing a new year’s resolution. I think it’s silly to need a specific day to make a promise to myself. Instead I am going to continue in my own way to make myself as good a version of me as I can be. Can’t ask much more of myself than that.

Thank you to everyone who has been following this blog through the year. How are you seeing in 2013, and if you have decided to make a New Years resolution, what is it and why?

Cheers!

Oh hai Interwebz. Remember me?

Like has taken a turn for the (more) insane, with the end of study period scramble for essay-survival, starting a new position, trying to keep up with existing jobs, birthday parties galore and the impending doom of the Silly Season. So what is a person to do? Go nuts, drop everything and write a blog entry? Seems like a good plan to me! It’s either that or find a way to fold time in order to hold down three full-time jobs AND study full-time. (Those wishing to collaborate on this endeavour by way of financial and/or scientific expertise are welcome!)

There has been a recent uproar in my person set of beliefs and views. I find myself no longer calling myself a “feminist,” but instead have adopted the term “equalist” to give a domain to my new opinions. So, why don’t I identify as a feminist any more? Mostly because the more extreme a viewpoint the less “equal rights” it is and the more “we’re more equal than them!” it is. In this instance, feminist viewpoints stand to serve as a distraction from the actual fight for equality, and as a touchstone for those who think women are a dominant gender more deserving of prestige. Well, that’s just wrong. Men and women and neuter (or “other”) should have access to the same rights, responsibilities and merit-based privileges as one another.  You get what you deserve because you have worked towards it, not because your gender entitles you to more than any other. Plain and simple.

Student burn-out has been on my radar as well these past few weeks. I have hit the end of my second year of my degree and have come to the conclusion that powering through it may now actually be possible. So many of the people I started around the same time as have dropped out, or taken time off, or dropped down to part time. I feel a sense of achievement that I have made it this far without such. Having said that, while studying with Open Universities does give me certain privileges not otherwise experienced by students (namely, a greater variety of university providers to choose my units from), it does leave for a rather exhausting degree experience. Thirteen week study periods backing on to thirteen week study periods with maybe  few days off over the xmas break (but not really because there are assignments due either side of those days off) makes for a very very tired Nephthys. Not to mention I am actually currently doing third level units to clear my major. *le sigh* Still, this too shall come to pass… and all shall be witness to my whinging and complaining and eventual triumph over the forces of evil university.

So, dear interwebz, I guess that’s a bit of an update of recent times. It’s not hard-hitting. It’s not entertaining. It’s not even vaguely interesting, but it’s something and, for the time being, that’s what you get.