Minecraft: Why is it so awesome?

Minecraft is without doubt one of the most compelling games ever invented. This is all thanks to Swedish game designer Markus Persson (@notch) who first released Minecraft back in November 2011. Minecraft is available for PC, Mac OSX, Android, iOs and XBox so there are plenty of ways to play. Minecraft and parent company Mojang were sold to Microsoft in 2014, this was a controversial move and there has been plenty of discussion on the subject.

Many/most nine year olds and up will be familiar with Minecraft and will be using it to build their own worlds and explore with their friends. They’ll all know the default character, Steve.

So, as a Minecraft Parent and IT all rounder here are some of the things I discovered?

Minecraft is a type of simulator, not strictly a game. Which is to say that when you enter a Minecraft world you discover that there is no end point. If your character dies (in Survival Mode) then they can restart again. As this is a simulation you need to remember to collect food, eat and build a shelter to avoid the spiders, creepers, zombies  and other nasties.

There are several modes:

  • Creative Mode. Here you have unlimited resources and your pick of all the materials available. All this without having to mine for anything. Not only that you get all the monster eggs so you can fill the world with chickens if you really want to.  You can fly in this mode as well as mine and explore.
  • Survival Mode. Pit your wits against the world. Here you can live or ‘die’ by your actions. Forget to eat and your character will starve, forget to paddle when swimming you will drown. There is day and night, no shelter means you will be attacked by zombies, spiders and creepers – all of which will kill you. Of course you can fight back with a stick or even a sword you made for yourself from your mining activities.
  • Spectator Mode. This mode basically allows you to fly around but you can’t interact with the world in any way. However, it is possible to take the perspective of many of the entities in Minecraft.


Generally, if playing on your phone/tablet, you will be in single player mode. It is possible though for other people at home to join your world and play along with you. This is achieved by going to the options and switching on Multiplayer Game.

But that’s just a beginning. Many servers exist with MMORPG setups that allow hundreds of players to participate.

As a simulator, and as it is very programmable, there have been many multiplayer games developed for Minecraft. Here’s a quick list:

  • Hunger Games. Yes! Join the server and you can slay and play just like the real thing.
  • Capture the Flag. An old favourite. Teams go up against each other to win the opponents flag, same as in Halo, World of Tanks and so many other games.
  • Hide’n’Seek. So you have to survive for 5-25 minutes in this one. There are hiders and seekers. As a hider you get to disguise yourself as anything from a flowerpot to a pig. The seekers have weapons and if you are caught it’s the end for you. Stay very still or just don’t get caught moving around.

There are loads more games and a web search for ‘minecraft games’ will take you a long way.


MinecraftEdu makes it possible for Minecraft to be used as an educational tool. This seems to occur more in the US than the UK but it is a great thing. Yet another indicator of the awesome possibilities of Minecraft.

Here is a great article on setting up and using MinecraftEdu, at the end is a list of the educational standards (US) that are promoted through the use of this version. http://educade.org/lesson_plans/getting-started-with-minecraftedu

There is so much more to explore in Minecraft, it’s a great resource.

We Love: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

This is such an enjoyable story full of alliteration, onomatopoeia, adventure and the perfect amount of peril. It’s a simple story of a family walk but the way in which Michael Rosen brings the story to life is captivating.

The images are drawn by Helen Oxenbury and capture the moods of the story beautifully.

Here is a video of Michael Rosen performing the story. It’s great because you can see exactly what he has in mind for each scene.

Living in a Blended World. Reading and Technology.

What do you use your screen(s) for?

It is highly unlikely that you will be reading a printed copy of these words. We live in a world of blended media today and that brings with it a few new features. The chances are that you have several screens and devices to choose from every day.

I have just come back from a Connected TV conference organised by my employers (MediaTel) which was all about the implications, and current state, of the technology. A lot of time was spent discussing advertising (indeed the event was sponsored by Rovi) and the whys and wherefores of the new advertising models being created. Fascinating stuff but what I’ll be discussing here is the nature of the technology we are now using every day and how we can use it.

Technology. Books. Television. What’s the link?

Actually it is wider and deeper than you might first think. Let’s get a few bullet points down…

  • printing. Since the Gutenberg press with its solid type we have seen printing develop to the point where we can print a book in a few minutes on a laser printer. But this is old hat now..
  • consumption. You can now read the book or listen to it being read by Stephen Fry, for example. If you want a difficult time you can get the text-to-speech program to do it for you instead of listening to Mr Fry’s mellifluous tones
  • more consumption.. this is where I give up on bullet points

One of the technology points that kept recurring at MediaTel’s Connected TV Experience was that there is an increasing emphasis on multiple or companion screen usage whilst watching TV. For example; say you are watching a movie and need to know more it is very simple to pick up your smart device (Android, Apple etc) and check the details on IMDB for starters.

So the companion screen is clearly going to be of major importance, the next 3 to 5 years will bring some maturity as well as new developments; I’d suggest that gesture based controls will be come more prevalent, this much is clear from the advent of the XBox Kinect device.

Back to books. One of my recent obsessions has been to think about and look at the different ways we now consume our literature. The list is here:

  • Paper
  • Computer screen at work or home
  •  Ebook (kindle, sony, vook..
  • Tablet
  • Smartphone

But hang on.. it isn’t even that simple. This is the blended bit.

I love the feeling of holding a book, turning the pages, all those sensual associations we develop with objects. However it isn’t always possible to lug around that massive copy of Lord of the Rings – which is where Blended Reading comes in.

Blended Reading is my name for the act of moving across different media to continue our reading experience: this implies continuity of reading the text or enhancing the reading experience by discovering additional information and content for ourselves; this in turn may include Social Media conversations and recommendations which lead to more reading matter or video/images/advertising.

Lord of the Rings is an interesting example because Peter Jackson very deliberately tried to retain the storytelling style and the events of the original book when making his films. When reading the book, or watching the film, it is easy to blend the two because of the effort put in to remain faithful to the book. You won’t necessarily learn a great deal from this particular blend but it serves as a starting point.

Implications and Analysis

Of course Blended Reading is much more than switching media. Book in hand I look up the extended bio of the author on my smartphone, I check out their other books. I download the next in series to my smartphone and read it anywhere I can.

This is exactly what I did recently when reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I have the thick volume which is impossible to carry, reassuringly dense on one’s lap but impossible on the tube. Motivated by the need to keep reading I got the eBook on my Android phone and carried on from where I left off. When time allowed in the evening I continued with the paper tome.

There was more to discover so I used my smartphone to find out for myself if there was any more of Pullman’s work related to this series. And this way I deepened my appreciation of his work and the characters he has created for us.

Similar scenarios happen when watching the television or a movie. We want to know more. The ad-breaks provide a chance for us to pursue questions raised whilst watching the main programme. Waiting for the kettle to boil or the toast to pop is another quiet moment to pursue the quest for information.

The implication of this style of interaction, for me, is that I get the satisfaction of enriching my experience. For the author, it means that I can discover more of their work or home in on a specific aspect of it. For the publisher, it means an opportunity to sell more books.

For Publishers, rather like Broadcasters, there are a number of issues to consider around how they can get the most benefits from multiple devices and indeed the social relationships that go hand in hand with them. Selling multiple copies of a book, say, is it right to sell an individual bot electronic and paper copies of a work? I’m sure that many publishers would say ‘Yes!’. This doesn’t encourage the Blended Reading I’m talking about though and creates a disjoint between what is available and what is possible.


Whether you are reading this article on the computer at home or work, on your Kindle or smartphone it is now clear that reading has changed. This isn’t news anymore, just bald fact.

The technology we carry around with us provides so many opportunities for us to experience more outside the main focus of our attention that making use of the facility becomes compelling, habit forming possibly. Does this improve our experience of what we read or watch?

I think that it does. What do you think?

#FridayReads beginnings and endings…

There has been much written about the origins of FridayReads and how it became so popular. More recently there has been a great deal about the fact that Bethanne Patrick and her crew have been making a pretty penny out of the publishers. So here’s a bit of analysis, and information, for you from my perspective. Thus far I’ve kept quiet as I consider the implications of it all but I think it’s time to put my head above the parapet, not least because there is a chunk of the story missing.

Way back, it seems, in the last quarter of 2010 I read a book called Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath it’s all about how we get drawn to ideas and how they stay with us. It really is an excellent read. About the same time I was also looking into getting some new knowledge and skills under my belt, autodidact that I am, and so the idea of learning about Social Media and particularly @Twitter came about.

Mix in a love of books and we’re nearly there.

Digging around in Twitter eventually turned up this idea of weekly sharing of what people are reading, called #FridayReads – conceived by Bethanne Patrick when she was with Book Studio, now defunct I believe. Ping! The lightbulb moment arrived when I discovered that this brilliant idea called FridayReads was dragging along with between 300 and 500 participants weekly. This was in about September/October 2010.

So, as a personal experiment initially, I decided to follow the rules set out by the estimable Heath brothers in their book. My aim was to see if I could get #FridayReads to grow.

And you know what, I was right and the techniques of engagement and publicising of the idea really worked. FridayReads started to grow, and grow. I didn’t stay on my own for long though as certain other great people joined in with me to form a core: @erinfaye, @adamslisa, @littlefluffycat and @shelfmagazine. Naturally this caught Bethanne’s attention as the buzz around FridayReads began to increase. It is undeniably a brilliant idea and perfect for the Social Media (though more Twitter and Facebook than the oddness that is Tumblr).

The participation in FridayReads on Twitter has lately stuck at around 5000-6000 weekly (which is great) though the Facebook page has a little under 10,000 ‘likes’. It’s rather a shame that Bethanne went in to Book Riot as it is a shadow of the potential that FridayReads had and nowhere near as good an idea, ah well, she didn’t ask what I thought and they do seem to be rather well funded.

But where next. Well, data. I quickly saw that there was potential for a Best Read List, a regular listing of the top books mentioned by the participants. To this end I devised some algorithms and wrote some computer programs to analyse the data from the Twitter #FridayReads stream. @erinfaye maintained the list on her blog of FridayReads (initially on blogspot), later this moved to the fridayreads.com website and was still maintained by @erinfaye and myself.

My third child was born in March and as a result I was somewhat distracted from the goings on in FridayReads and apparently this was also around when the monetization started.  I only became aware of the fact that money was being made much later on. This would be totally fine had there been an air of openness around the subject and a clear willingness to share. As it was I had invested a considerable amount of time, ingenuity and some of my own earnings in producing the Best Read Lists and resented the move to own/take over the work I had done.

Negotiations were entered into but I decided that as the relationship had been soured through a loss of trust that I would no longer publish the Best Read Lists on fridayreads.com, they now live at BestReadList.com which is a new site I run with @erinfaye. The Best Read strand was the single most popular item on the FridayReads website so it would be a shame to flush it all away.

So there we are. FridayReads is still a great idea but rather marred  of late by the controversy. I still take part as I believe that the sharing of the knowledge of what we are reading is vital. I also love watching and mapping trends and where better than Twitter.

Other sites:

Bethanne Patrick on FridayReads

Jennifer Weiner Post about FridayReads



#FridayReads on the Radio. ONFM Book Club

ONFM Radio Logo

ONFM Radio Logo

I’ll be talking about #FridayReads and all things bookish with Disha Kaushik (@dishakaushik) on her ONFM Book Club show this Sunday, 9th October. The show is broadcast on ONFM Radio Station every week from 12pm to 1pm.

If you miss the show or are out of the area check Disha’s Facebook page for the SoundCloud podcast links on her Facebook Page.

Join in FridayReads?

FridayReads is the biggest Social Media book club out there. It was established on Twitter by Bethanne Patrick (@thebookmaven) way back in 2009 as a means of sharing the joy of reading with everyone! Since that time it has grown from just 300 hundred participants to a staggering 6000-8000 regulars, and it is still growing. FridayReads features regular giveaways to participants, all you need to do is share the title of what you are reading on: Twitter with the #FridayReads hashtag; on Facebook at our FridayReads page  or even on Tumblr. Feel free to visit and comment on fridayreads.com too, we love a good discussion!

Here is what Disha says about her show:

ONFM Book Club is a 1 hour show every Sunday. The show derived from my love of reading, I enjoy recommending books I have read to my friends, and thought it would be good to have a show focussing on book recommendations, and reviews for books I have read. We review the  books within the top 10 taken from The Waterstones official book chart. The show features guests, ranging from play writers and those that love reading. They discuss a book they have recently read, some of their favourite authors, books, if they are involved in the literature scene, they are given a platform to discuss their work. We encourage listener participation, they are given the chance to e-mail and text in their opinions on the books we have discussed, and offer book suggestions.

Disha has uploaded the interview to Soundcloud. You can listen to it here, just click the play button below.

Literature and the Power of Scenery

View across the side of Skiddaw

View across the side of Skiddaw

I have just returned from a wonderful family holiday in the English Lake District. The area is widely known as one of the country’s most spectacular places to visit. There are plenty of tourist brochures that will tell you the same.

The Lake District has been an attraction for many years and home to many authors and poets. So how about a few names and locations.

Beatrix Potter lived at Hawkshead and is known for her anthropomorphic characterisations of the rabbit, hedgehogs, frogs, ducks and more.

Arthur Ransome wrote Swallows and Amazons initially inspired by the Lake District scenery though he later moved to East Anglia, about as different as you can get!

William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey were known as the Lake Poets and took their inspiration from their surroundings. Easy to understand when you can stand on top of a mountain and see for miles in every direction. Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth is buried at St. Oswald’s church in Grasmere.

Melvyn Bragg, broadcaster and writer was born and grew up in Wigton, Cumbria. He is well known for presenting arts programme The South Bank Show. His novel The Maid of Buttermere was published in 1987 is based on the life story of Mary Robinson, who was mentioned in William Wordsworth’s Prelude.

Ernest Hemingway was inspired by the area and it is a recurring theme in his novella The Torrents of Spring.

This is just a small sample of the writers and authors who have taken their inspiration from the Lake District so if you feel the need to walk with a few literary giants then pay a visit. Be warned though, the lakes are there for a very good reason. The Lake District is the wettest place in the UK, take a raincoat, umbrella and wellies because it could rain at any time – or all the time.



The Budapest Protocol by Adam Lebor #giveaway

The Budapest Protocol

The Budapest Protocol

Publishing house Beautiful Books (@BeautifulBooks) have been kind enough to allow me to Give Away (yes!) ten copies of political thriller The Budapest Protocol by Adam Lebor.

The book was inspired by Declassified Intelligence Reports produced in 1944 by the US intelligence services. The result is a sinister and gripping conspiracy thriller.


Nazi-occupied Budapest, winter 1944. The Russians are smashing through the German lines. Miklos Farkas breaks out of the Jewish ghetto to find food – at the Nazis’ headquarters where he is handed a stolen copy of The Budapest Protocol giving details of the Nazis post-war plans. Miklos knows it must stay hidden forever if he is to stay alive.

Present day Budapest. As the European Union launches the election campaign for the first President of Europe, Miklos Farkas is brutally murdered leaving his grieving  journalist grandson Alex to track down the killers. He soon unravels a chilling conspiracy rooted in the dying days of the Third Reich, one that will ensure Nazi economic domination of Europe – and a plan for a new Gypsy Holocaust.

The hunt is on for The Budapest Protocol. Alex is quickly drawn into a deadly web of intrigue and power play, played for the highest stakes: the very future of Europe. But Alex must battle his own demons as he uncovers a shadowy alliance that the world thought had been defeated for good. Powerful, controversial and thought-provoking, The Budapest Protocol is a journey into Europe’s hidden heart of darkness…

If you enjoy books by Robert Ludlum then you’ll surely enjoy this one.

The Giveaway is now closed. I shall announce the ten winners during #FridayReads on Friday 12th August 2011.

Expect to see this title turning up when I do my #FridayReads this week!

Other Links

Budapest Protocol on Facebook don’t forget to LIKE!

Adam LeBor’s website http://www.adamlebor.com

Adam LeBor on Twitter @adamlebor

@BeautifulBooks page the-budapest-protocol

Small Print

To be eligible for the giveaway you must be in the UK and use the entry link above. Please enter once so everyone has a fair chance.


#FridayReads chat and where it’s at

Using last week’s FridayReads data from Twitter I decided to plot a graph of who talks to/about whom.

There is plenty of conversation going on and it is interesting to see the little groups that form in orbit around the @thebookmaven supergroup. The graph is absolutely huge and in fact uses only about half of the data available from last week.

The arrow points in the direction of the mention. So if we look at this snippet we can see plenty of conversation occurring.

Conversations around FridayReads


The full size graph is about 6MB in size and you can view it by clicking HERE. Your browser may resize the image so you might see the magnifying glass with the + sign in it. There’s an alternative view HERE with a slightly different layout

Blogging with QR Codes

Ok, it’s not the usual thing to do but I think QR codes are great. You can read the rest of the post with your smartphone or scan the images online with this page: http://zxing.org/w/decode.jspx

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Paragraph 4

Paragraph 5

If you’re interested in the technology then @ajaxlogos is a good place to start. He’s done a load of work on them and is being very creative.

I’m watching the #fiw11 stream on twitter and it sounds as though there are some great creative publishing ideas coming out.

Permalink to this post