Homework
2 July 2022 | 10:00 am

“Dinner time!”

“Coming, mom!”

“What were you doing in your room? You were being very quiet for once.”

What was I doing in my room?

“Homework.”

“What subject?”

“…history?”

“Is that a question, or an answer?”

“Just tired, mom. History. Not done yet. Can I eat in my room?”

“Yeah, sure. But bring the plate out when you’re done. Your room smells bad enough!”

“Ha ha, you are so funny.”

Now, where was I?

> truthseeker29: When I was a kid I saw a guy with no gear. Freaked me out.

> unblinded99: yeah right i call bs

Fuckin’ chatroom trolls.

> truthseeker29: fu you don't know me, I saw the dude, the one who the police say fucked up the restaurant owner that time, I was like 6 or 7.

> unblinded99: this one [link]?

OK, still a troll, but at least they reply quickly.

Police save restaurant owner from deranged man

WASHINGTON – Time and place were on the side of the law today, when a deranged individual was arrested while attacking a restaurant owner.

“He came in my restaurant, and I told him I could not accept cash or card, he needed to use the app like everyone else,” said the owner, John Hu. “Not a second later he grabbed me and started hitting my hand with a hammer he had with him.”

Luckily for the owner, three off-duty officers were in the vicinity and heard the commotion. Without hesitation, they raced into action and apprehended the individual.

Once in custody, they determined that the perpetrator had been cited for previous violations of disturbing the peace. He was taken into custody pending trial.

“I’m just so thankful that those officers were nearby. Once my hand is healed, I would love to shake theirs,” says John.


UPDATE:

After his arrest the perpetrator of this heinous act was evaluated in a psychiatric facility. There, it was quickly determined that due to prolonged disconnection from social networks, he had fallen into a deep depression. This depression exacerbated his anti-social behaviour which eventually lead to a mental break with reality.

“It is important to remain in touch with friends and relatives as much as possible. To deprive oneself of a technology used by most of the developed world is to open the door to grave consequences,” says Dr. Phil Framer, psychiatrist at UMHW.

> unblinded99: done?

> truthseeker29: fuck

> truthseeker29: no way that dude had a hammer, my mom was there 2, she looked right at him

> unblinded99: no way you remember if he had a hammer or not, i bet you didnt see shit

> truthseeker29: how can you be so fuckin stupid to believe in this shit tho?

> truthseeker29: you really think that ungeared ppl are all crazy?

> unblinded99: open your eyes @truthseeker29

> unblinded99: you came here a normie, now you learn the truth, i gtg

# @unblinded99 has left the chat

# @truthseeker29 has left the chat

No fuckin’ way did that dude have a hammer. I can’t deal with that level of crazy.

“Mom.”

“Done your homework?”

“Uh, yeah, can I ask you somethin’?”

“Shoot.”

“Do you remember when I was little, and we saw that ungeared guy get arrested?”

Michael…

“What?”

“His name was Michael, we went to school together, until we were about 13.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why would I? You never asked?”

“So, do you think he was crazy?”

“What? No! Not him. He was just a bit…different.”

“So, you don’t think he attacked the restaurant owner?”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, someone sent me this article.”

“Honey, where did you get that? That isn’t even a real news site.”

“Huh?”

“Here, look, first, no author. And, I bet that that doctor, isn’t a doctor, or doesn’t exist. And look at the other junk on that site. Do you really think that there is some sort of global conspiracy to take over the world,” she said sarcastically, wiggling her fingers in the air like she was casting a spell, “that people without implants spread diseases, that the president rigged the votes? Look at that one! This is an article about how billionaires and film stars are cannibals! Fuck off — Are they still going on about Pizzagate?

Mom stopped reading and looked at me, tilting her head to the side little. “Paul,” she began, “my mother told me stories her mother told her. I know that you are smart and mature, but even smart people can get sucked into Internet fantasies. Back when social networks were still figuring things out, there were lots of problems with them. Many people were sucked into believing things that were just not true, or real, or… Some of it was make-believe, like, obvious nonsense, and even when they found out who was doing it, people still believed it.

“I am not going to police you on the net. I don’t want to know what you’re looking at anyway,” she stopped to smile at me.

“Don’t be weird, mom.”

“Just…don’t believe everything you read.”

So, what am I? Gullible? Stupid? I’ll show that little troll…

John Hu still owns the restaurant. I just have to swing by tomorrow and ask if he has seen Michael lately, that my mom and him are old friends.

DIIIINGDOOONNG

A little bell rings as I step into the restaurant. It smells like any other restaurant in the city: fusion! Burgers and fries, vinegar, tofu, fish, sweet, sour…and sweat. Behind the counter is the man from the article, John Hu. I bring up the ordering app on my glasses and pick two cheap items and a drink. I stand at the counter and wait for him to bring my order. I decide to send a quick message to that little dipshit to let him know what I’m doing. Before I can hit send, though…

“Order up! This one for you kid?”

“Uh, yes. Yes. For me. Um, hey…little, uh, question. My mom wanted to know if her friend still comes around here?”

“That depends. What’s friend’s name?”

“Michael.”

“…”

“Are…you OK?”

“Michael still comes in. Now you get out. Customers waiting. Go tell your mom he comes by almost every day.”

“Oh. thanks.”

Every day! I could just wa…

“Hey John, how’s it going?”

“Michael! Just talking about you. With that boy. Your order almost ready. You two talk. He says his momma wants to meet you, haha!”

Michael looked at me. I might be 17, but I suddenly felt a lot younger. It wasn’t often that I looked at people so closely. He had the connected glasses and watch, but was for sure the guy I saw when I was a child. Before he could say anything, verbal diarrhoea kicked in.

“We saw you. My mom and I, I mean. We saw you the day that you came here…with the police. She knows you. My mom went to school with you.”

He didn’t flinch. “Follow me,” he grunted. “John! Can I use the restroom?”

“I say ’no’ you do it anyway.”

I followed him behind the counter. We went through the kitchen and down a hallway. He stopped and I nearly ran into him.

“We can talk here. White zone. What do you want?”

I told him. I told him about when I was a kid, what I saw, and what the news says happened. He told me what happened, for real.

“But, you still come in here?”

“Of course, John is my friend. He was hurt, but we know who was to blame. Who is to blame.”

“The cops!”

“No. They were just being jerks. Violent and dangerous jerks. I hate those cops, but not all cops.”

“So, who? The government?”

“A little, but the problem is a little bigger and harder to explain. They are to blame.”

They?”

“You know? They. Sure, the government is partially to blame. The companies that made all this garbage we have to wear. They are some true fuckers. But they did this when they gave up.”

I am totally lost here. Maybe this guy is crazy. How do I get outta here?

“Back when, you know, before my grandparents’ time and all that. Like, early 2000s,” he began, clearly seeing my confusion, “the tech companies and the government and advertisers and all that were up to some unethical stuff. People, some NGOs and stuff, they started to push back. But then, poof, no more pushing. The people fighting for our rights just…gave up. People called them retro-nerds, and neo-Luddites, and the media convinced everyone that what they were doing was a trend or something.

They were the government, and the monopolies, but they were also the people, like us, that were just so complacent.”

“That’s…a lot…to believe.”

“Yup. And you shouldn’t believe it, I wish it weren’t like that. But, I know what happened to me, and I can tell you one thing. That story you read? It didn’t happen like that. Other things that people say? Lots of bullshit. The Internet is like a dog park after a nice sunny day.”

“A what?”

“It’s full of shit. Mainstream news? They just want viewership. They spin it, they make it spectacular. They are a business, hard to blame them sometimes. But, just the walking path through the dog park. Alternative news sites,” he said making air-quotes, “is all half-truths, falsities, misinformation, and omissions preying on weak-minded people for the same thing: likes and clicks. Today, they make what I do hard. Tall grass, you know? Might be safe, might be full of shit.”

“And, what do you do?”

“I recruit people.”

“To do…what?”

“I could tell you, or I could give you a little job to do for me, and you can find out for yourself.”

“Like…homework?”

His eyebrows raised behind his glasses. He smiled a little.

“Sure, kid, like homework. I’ll be in touch. Get out of here, before John throws a hissy fit.”


Teach(p)ing
13 June 2022 | 10:24 am

Another notification,
What could it be?
Click this, open that,
Why was this sent to me?

An email from my manager
To say I need to check Teams.
Let’s install another app
And choose from one of six themes.

Come navigate this list of groups
And help me find my way.
It’s not like I have something to do,
I only have to teach today.

There. We found it.
Ah, a file to download.
Fill out this spreadsheet,
Log into to Moodle and upload.

Now, time to go to work.
Teaching is what I like best,
Not Yammer this and Doodle that,
Not another software to beta test.

Turn on the laptop.
Plug it in.
Connect to WiFi.
Why can’t I log in?

Down for maintenance,
Yet again.
The hours on OneDrive,
The weeks of eyestrain.

A training session for Slack,
Do we really need that?
Yes, it is the same but different.
A lot of effort for group chat.

Reply all.
Out of office.
What to do?
I’m nauseous.

How many accounts must we use
Just to prove we’ve gone digital?
This feels like more work,
Not a little bit paradisiacal.

Listen here, administrators:
Nothing about this is streamlined.
The teachers are run ragged,
They’ve lost all peace of mind.

Technological progress in the name of efficiency
Creates more work in the long run.
If the teachers are all exhausted,
Our school won’t be number one.

Do you want to make things easier?
Do you want a suggestion?
It would be easier to teach
Without all this interruption.

Stop sending me messages.
I don’t want another app.
Don’t take it the wrong way,
But it’s all a load of crap.

I’ll still do my work
Without this DX.
You’ll still be happy
As you cash all those cheques.

You want to be innovative,
But you just copy the rest.
I would give you a zero
If you did that on a test.

So, turn off those screens.
Time to disconnect.
It’s the only way I know
To teach the present perfect.

I have spoken,
You have heard.
Please don’t make me remember
Another password.


Children's Cartoons
25 May 2022 | 9:00 am

The 1980s were a wonderful time for children’s cartoons. No questions were asked, it seems. It gave birth to things that today would have no chance of survival against television censors and parents1. Sure, there were rules about violence, but they were fundamentally long-form toy ads, and some of them were great.

My childhood was Transformers, GI Joe, ThunderCats, SilverHawks, M.A.S.K, The Masters of the Universe, and the like. Most of the time, the premise was straightforward: Good versus Evil. And nearly all of them had kick-ass opening credits, that were often very similar…

ThunderCats Opening Credits

Interesting, no? Let’s try again…

SilverHawks Opening Credits

OK, amazingly similar. And these cartoons were produced after the toys2.

So, as a fan of cartoons (and toys) I was delighted and filled with joy by the idea of watching cartoons with my son. Now, I know, TV is bad for children. No screens before three years old and all that. I read the studies and I promised myself I would try not to overload him with TV.

I failed…

I knew, though, that things would not be like in the 80s and 90s. The shows for younger children are not like before. There is a little less action, things are a little less scary, the vocabulary is subdued.

I did not know I would be up against literal crack for kids…

PAW Patrol

Guru Studio & Spin Master Entertainment

PAW Patrol should need no introduction. It is a TV show designed to sell merchandise, there is no doubt about that. It took some great ideas from the past, and diluted them into an addictive slurry for young minds.

Don’t get me wrong, I let my son watch it and I have seen every single episode, special, and film. I can say, based on my hundreds of hours of watching TV since the 1980s, that this show is a drug for kids.

Before we get into this, I recommend watching The Science of Cute. Skip to around the 9 minute 39 second mark.

This mini-documentary is about why we find puppies cute. In the video, Julie Hecht says:

Cuteness is incredibly important for us as a human species […]. Konrad Loranz — one of the ethologists, people that study animal behaviour — introduced the idea that there might be certain physical features that are particularly cute and endearing that we are attracted to.

They would have a high and protruding forehead, very big eyes, [and] big cheeks. [They would have] a little nose, and a little mouth. And they have short, pudgy, extremities.

[A]ll of these features would essentially elicit our attraction […]

Shortly after this explanation, an artist draws the definition of cute. It is a puppy that is similar to the pups in PAW Patrol:

Screenshot from “The Science of Cute”: An artists uses digital painting software to sketch a puppy with big eyes
Screenshot from "The Science of Cute"

Rocky, from PAW Patrol. The grey mixed-breed recycling pup
Rocky the recycling pup

PAW Patrol takes one of the animals that we find the cutest, puppies, and creates exaggeratedly cute versions of them as heroes. Even the humans follow the description given above. The whole concept is excellent. And they can’t be blamed for wanting profit, but they can be blamed for cutting corners!

The CGI animation used in this show is awfully basic. Over the course of nine seasons, not a whisker has been changed. As little detail as possible is used. Yes, they have added new characters, and new vehicles. Yes, just in case you didn’t know, the PAW Patrol have the OG vehicles, dog houses that transform into themed vehicles, as well as a slew of others: sea patrol vehicles, city vehicles, race cars, motorcycles, planes, knights’ chariots, dinosaur themed vehicles, superhero vehicles, and “ultimate rescue” vehicles. You need to have something new to sell, right? But, they have never updated the quality of the animation.

The content of the show, on the surface, seems fine. The pups rescue people in danger and teach kids to be careful. There are attempts at inclusivity as well — one of the pups has physical handicap that doesn’t prevent him from being a hero, another is supposed to be hyperactive, one of them speaks Spanish, and there is even a cat who occasionally helps out. But, if you look at something like Blue’s Clues and then watch this, you will immediately notice that the pacing is off:

  • A problem occurs in town, so The PAW Patrol is called. Sure, there is an entire sequence involved with pups getting HQ to receive their orders, but there is no invitation to the audience to guess which pups will be called upon to solve this problem. This sequence is very similar to the one used in M.A.S.K., so I must ask you watch the opening credits.
M.A.S.K. Opening Credits

Want further comparison? I have been thinking about this for years now, so you will have to bear with me. Both shows have:

  • transforming vehicles
  • themed heroes (e.g. water specialist, flying, etc.)
  • specialized equipment (helmets in M.A.S.K., backpacks (“Pup-Packs”) in PAW Patrol)
  • a villain with a moustache who also has access to innovative technology
    • no explanation as to where said technology comes from
  • a robot
  • occasional non-hero characters that help out
  • a “get to HQ” sequence
  • a “get your costumes on” sequence
  • catchy opening credits
  • an attempt at providing a moral for younger children

In the end, PAW Patrol is essentially very cheap eye-candy, but, you might think that there is a moral of some sort? Nope. No moral. The major protagonist, Mayor Humdinger (voiced by the wonderful Ron Pardo) is never punished for his wrongdoings. The pirate who steals stuff always gets away. The villains clean up their messes, and they go home.

Also, the adults in the show are awful. The safety of a town, the nearby city, the jungle, the Kingdom of Barkingburg, the oceans and the skies is left in the hands of a 10-year-old boy and some puppies. The adults are clumsy and inept, incapable of taking care of a chicken in some instances. The only ones with any sense are the children and the pups. What message is this for children?

Finally, it is confusing. Really confusing. Children like stories, but this show has no story really. There are no parents in the main town, but there is a child, Alex, who lives with his grandfather. There are two other kids that come visit their aunt. The main character is 10 years old, but never says anything about his parents. Where did these people come from?

PAW Patrol is not the only show like this. Off the top of my head I can say that PJ Masks is on the same level. Cheap animation, no morals, designed to sell toys.

Speaking of toys, PAW Patrol managed to botch this too. Whether it is by design or some other reason, it is quite difficult to find toys of the human characters. They were produced, but have since been discontinued. Your kid can be addicted to the show, and get a truckload of toys, and imagine their hearts away, but, they will have nobody to save and nobody to save them from — they will have multiple versions of the pups in their different vehicles, and maybe a dragon.

Note

I feel it important to note that I do not hate this show. I just think it can be better. The PAW Patrol movie shows that: better animation style, a story that provides some background for a main character, a lesson for children on overcoming fears, and so on. Ryder, though, is freakin’ creepy looking in the movie:

Poster for PAW Patrol: The Movie - logo in the centre, vehicles underneath, characters above, Ryder centre
PAW Patrol: The Movie Poster

And, I am looking forward to the movie sequel and the spin-off series in the works. I can’t help it, I am hooked now too.

Two Can Play

It has not been as easy as it should have been to find TV shows that my son likes and that I would call good. Shows that have an educational side, a funny side, or an emotional side that demonstrate an effort from the creators to make something good.

I want to talk about five of these shows. You will notice that some of these shows have taken advantage of the “big head, big eyes, small body” science mentioned earlier. The difference is that these shows go the extra mile. Sometimes in terms of content and message, sometimes in the quality of the presentation, sometimes both.

Tumble Leaf

Amazon Studios

The first big hit in our household, before PAW Patrol, was Tumble Leaf. This show was beautiful to watch, and the creators were nice enough to give it an emotional finale. The stories were perfect for kids and follow the same premise: Fig the fox finds an object and must use that object to have fun. This is what kids do. A mirror can be a play thing. A drumstick can be more than a drumstick. A tool can be used more than one way. The overall message: go play!

Tumble Leaf Teaser

Furthermore, the show is calm. It is soft, and quiet, and subtle. There are no screeching characters, or overly anxiety-inducing scenes. While this is not the case of my son, I am aware that some kids are sensitive to sounds and action scenes. This is a show that you could let your children watch unattended, but you won’t, because it is too gorgeous. You will also be happy to know that there is no merchandise available. That means you will not be buying toys or stuffed animals or lunch boxes or anything like that to please you children.

Tumble Leaf Making of Featurette

I did play my cards wrong. Tumble Leaf is a great show for children of all ages, but I should have started with something like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that is explicitly for very young children. I do occasionally propose an episode of Tumble Leaf

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

Fred Rogers Productions, 9 Story Media Group, 9 Story USA

Daniel Tiger is the continuation of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. That is all you need to know. Appearance and content-wise, this is the most childish of the shows in this list. It is for 3- and 4-year-old children, after all.

The series centers around Daniel Tiger […]. Two 11-minute segments are linked by a common socio-emotional theme, such as disappointment and sadness or anger and thankfulness. The theme also uses a musical motif phrase, which the show calls “strategy songs,” to reinforce the theme and help children remember the life lessons. Many of the “strategy songs” are available in albums or as singles under the artist name “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” The program is targeted at preschool-aged children; it teaches emotional intelligence, kindness, and human respect. Its content follows a curriculum based on Fred Rogers’ teaching and new research into child development. 3

In short, this is a safe show for children.

Hey Duggee

Studio AKA

This one is just as entertaining for parents as it is for children. It is silly and loud, but educational. It is a show that gets the audience involved through the use of a narrator, and teaches things in the same way that something like Sesame Street does.

The concept is that question kids ask all the time, what are we going to do today? And while doing that thing, we learn. We learn about tadpoles, elections, trains, kites, building, shapes, singing, whistling, water, being sick, being quiet, and, yes, sticks.

The show is about a group of children at day camp. Their camp counsellor is Duggee, a dog, who always has ideas and seems to know about everything. The group of children is loud and colourful: There is a sensitive rhino named Tag; Norrie, a quiet and calm mouse; Betty, a know-it-all octopus; Happy, an alligator obsessed with water; and a loud, hyperactive, disruptive, but yoga-practicing hippo named Rolly. Of course, there are a series of other characters that they interact with.

Adults will have no problem watching this show with their children, because there is always a little joke in there for them. Keep in mind, though, that some of these jokes do require a little knowledge of British culture — note the reference to Spaghetti Trees in this episode:

Hey Duggee - Gardening

Stillwater

Gaumont Animation & Scholastic Entertainment

Calm and Zen; soft-spoken, but powerful. Stillwater is visually beautiful to watch, and filled with detail that children’s shows normally ignore. As an example, the characters in this show have different outfits in nearly every episode. They have detailed expressions, and flowing hair, and fur. The environment is rich and there are different locations and weather events. Finally, each episode has a story within a story using a different animation style to present an anecdote in response to a problem.

Stillwater is a panda, he lives next door to a family with three children who, as humans do, encounter difficulties. Jealousy, dismay about the outcome of a race, growing up, getting a haircut, and so on. The anecdotes used to help the children to find solutions to their problems are retellings of Zen Buddhist and Taoist stories, mostly, and use lots of metaphors and analogies.

Stillwater Trailer

This series is based on a book, which is a good thing. It means that behind it there is an author, an IP, and a vision maintaining the course of the production. It isn’t something for your children to watch religiously when a new episode appears — there are only 20 episodes containing two stories each. This is something that you can use like a story book for children, and say, “hey, how about a Stillwater?” And, like when you read a story to your child, there is a certain memorability to each episode and story that does stick.

Bluey

Ludo Studio

Bluey is pure, unfiltered, entertainment. It is a lesson for children and their parents. It is the source of roaring laughter in my house. It is all about play and creativity. In my opinion, Bluey represents the standard in children’s television programming. It is the ideal show to transition from the more “preschool”-style program — think Daniel Tiger, or shows that have a narrator like Hey Duggee — to something that reflects the psychological development that children experience at this time in their lives.

As we grow, many of us use private speech during play. You will hear children muttering and telling stories with their toys. They narrate the events, and ask themselves questions out loud. At some point, we grow out of this and begin using inner speech. There are many scenes where we see the main characters of the show reflecting on what happened, but no narrator is there to help, and the character does not look at fourth wall and ask for guidance.

Bluey: Hotel

Bluey stands out in 2022. It has a very Saturday morning aesthetic, whereas many shows have taken a more 3D-CGI route. The characters have lives and jobs and backgrounds: Bluey is in a bit of an alternative school, she has a little sister named Bingo, a mother who works part-time, Chilli, and a father, Bandit, an archaeologist. There are aunts and uncles, babysitters, neighbours, teachers, friends, and even an episode dedicated to one of those friends. The production team spends about three months on each episode, after, the whole Ludo team gets together on a Friday to view the almost-finished product with friends and family, and their children 4. The children in the show also voiced by the children of the team. Finally, there is another minor twist.

It goes without saying that many shows like to focus on the mother as the main caregiver in a family, and the father as the breadwinner. Doing the opposite was often seen as a gimmick, some little twist — it is a show about a family, but different. Bluey does not feel like that at all. You hardly register the fact that in many episodes it is Bandit getting wrapped up in his daughters’ strange games, trying to keep them entertained. It is this aspect that draws parents in, at least in my case. There is a realness to Bandit, and the rest of the characters, that when seen through the eyes of an adult does not register as “this is a silly kids’ show”, but rather as “holy crap this is brilliant.”

Conclusion

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that I do feel some regret. My son has seen too many episodes of these shows. Time that could have been spent outside, playing, or being creative and actively learning was wasted on passive entertainment. Ideally, I would have known about these shows before my son was born, and therefore avoided the dreaded path of the PAW Patrol. I also would have changed the order: Daniel Tiger first, then Hey Duggee, followed by Stillwater, Tumble Leaf, and finally Bluey.

If you are a cartoon lover, or parent, I recommend that you watch these shows — even PAW Patrol, because it is important to be ready when your son or daughter comes home from school and asks why they have never seen that show. I also recommend that you try and see TV shows from your own childhood.

(I say this because it is amazing how things have changed. An innocuous little cartoon from our childhood, when seen through adult eyes, can be traumatic. The Animals of Farthing Wood is quite heavy, and just look at the synopsis for the first episode of Capital Critters5 which my mother let me watch: “After Max the mouse’s family is murdered by pest control workers, he moves to Washington, D.C. to live with his cousin Berkley.”)

Finally, always check the merchandise situation of a show before letting your children get hooked. PAW Patrol is a vector for toy sales, whereas the other programs mentioned above are not.


  1. Read about the “Adult Story Line” and cancellation of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future ↩︎

  2. It may surprise you to know that the two examples above, ThunderCats and SilverHawks, were produced by Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment who were previously known for their stop-motion Christmas specials, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer↩︎

  3. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood - Wikipedia ↩︎

  4. I took my daughter to see how they make Bluey at Ludo Studios in Brisbane and it sort of blew her mind - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) ↩︎

  5. Capitol Critters - Wikipedia ↩︎



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