My Day at WellyCon 2016

WellyCon is New Zealand’s premiere board gaming convention. Hundreds of avid gamers come together, bust out their cardboard cartons and plastic meeple and play board games with each other for two days straight, some even playing into early Sunday morning before returning the next day.

Discovery

I had never been to WellyCon before, but others had told me about it a few years ago. Only three weeks before the event, I saw it advertised in the ComicCon New Zealand flyer. Apparently all the big NZ geek events were running on the same weekend: Queen’s Birthday weekend.

The bigger, more well-known geek event, also running Queen’s Birthday weekend was Armageddon Expo, the annual entertainment and pop culture event. I’ve been to Armageddon many times (even cosplaying as Gordon Freeman and Axe Cop), but found it less and less to my liking, as it focussed on cartoons, television and cinema, and less about video games and board games.

I asked my lovely wife for the privilege of going to just the Saturday of WellyCon, leaving her with our daughter. Lucky is the man whose wife lets him go to WellyCon without her!

A Community Mindset

Because I was going by myself, I wondered how games got started at WellyCon. It turns out that there’s a very large game library at WellyCon. It’s full of games brought along by other attendees and left to be played by others. You can rustle up a group, choose a game, claim a table, set up and start playing.

I wasn’t expecting to know many people there, and I wasn’t going as part of a group, so I decided to only join games looking for extra players. As it turns out, they have these big signs you can put on your table to make it easy for players like me to find your table.

Turning Up

There was plenty of parking at Wellington Girls in Thorndon, if you knew where to find it. I circled around before I found the tiny WellyCon sign leading in to the parking field.

Once through the door, I walked around the busy atrium, admiring the magnificent stack of board games, and spotting one of the signs, and jumping into a game of Star Wars Carcassonne.

Star Wars Carcassonne is a lighter version of the original Carcassonne where cities are asteroid fields, roads are trade routes, no farms (space is empty) and cloisters are planets, and a fun planet-conquering mechanic which lets you roll battle dice to steal them. None of us had played this variant, and one of us had never played a Carcassonne. We read the rules, and learned how to play, and enjoyed ourselves very much. And I won, which is nice.

Family Jewels

Half-way through the first game, I got a text message from Adrianne, one of the organisers of WellyCon informing me that I had won a spot prize. After my game, I went to claim my prize.

Choosing from almost 90 prizes, I selected a set of plastic gems and gold nuggets for playing Splendor with. They are beautiful and decadent, and must add a further tactile experience to the game. I should not that at this point, I have played a lot of Splendor on my mobile phone, but did not own a physical copy of Splendor.

Much Game. Very Lose. Wow.

I ended up playing Shadows over Camelot with the same two people (Caleb and Fiona) and two other people. The traitor won by sabotaging too many quests, then falsely accusing another player to end the game. We didn’t complete a single quest. Fun game though!

After publically not collecting my lunch, and then correcting, and consuming it, I played a game of Splendor with some older gamers (not revealing my gem stash), and was thoroughly trounced. I got locked out of the ruby market, losing a lot of tempo in the process. I did, however, remind all those players that you can reserve a face-down card from any of the three stocks.

Trading Post

I had brought with me a selection of my least played games, hoping to trade them for slightly better games. WellyCon hosts a trading corner, where you can leave your games on a silent auction or for sale. I missed the (seemingly non-existent) face to face trading session at 12:30, but put all my games in a box marked “Offers” and waited for calls. Maybe not a great strategy, but I did get a call or two, settling one deal that day.

For the Hoard

Splendor board game box art

I finally got a copy to go with the plastic gems I won

Walking around I spotted a demo table with Cheeky Parrot Games showing off their Kickstarter card game Hoard, which I had already seen online. I sat down and played a full game with Tim Kings-Lynne, one of the game’s designers, and Julia Schiller, Director of Cheeky Parrot Games. They’re lovely people, and maybe they let me beat them at their own game. I got to talking to Tim and his exploits on the Miramar Peninsula working at Weta Digital, how the game has developed, and thoroughly enjoyed myself for a good while there.

After this I hung out with my old buddy Chris and Mel for a while, catching up on old games and old times. He also convinced me to put my games on silent auction. We then sat down and they introduced me to Codenames. Being the code master is hard! We played three games before I had to leave for the night and rejoin my family.

Last Dash for Cash

Before I left, I closed a trade! I traded a copy of Power Grid along with the China/Korea map expansion for $40. And on the way out, I passed by the Cerberus Games booth and spotted a copy of Splendor that had not been there all day, which I swiftly secured and took home.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself that day. Playing five different games, most of which I had never played before. I made new friends, won prizes, sold games at auction, caught up with old friends, and bought a game I have wanted for a while.

You should go to WellyCon!

Will I return for WellyCon 10 next year? ABSOLUTELY. My wife is supremely sore she missed out.

Should you? If you have enjoy learning and playing new and interesting board games, Definitely! And I learned there is a Mini-WellyCon coming up, maybe Labour Weekend? See you there?

What am I editing code with?

Keri Henare, an acquaintance of mine from a couple years ago asked the NZ PHP Users Group today:

Just curious as to what your IDE of choice is for PHP development and why?

You’ll see that I replied with the following.

Being nearly Mac-exclusive, I do most of my coding in TextMate, and any text manip in TextWrangler (it has superb grep/regex capabilities).

I don’t use an IDE, but if I was to use one, it’d be something like Coda or Espresso.

If I wanted to use a cross-platform, free IDE that isn’t half bad, but is based on Eclipse, I’d use Aptana for HTML+CSS+JS+PHP support. It’s nice because it has built in support for Firefox and Safari, (and IE when you’re on Windows).

New Zealand TWTR SMS Roundup

This is a work-in-progress timeline of all the news surrounding Vodafone New Zealand and Telecom New Zealand announcing their support for Twitter SMS through the shortcode TWTR (8987).

Any news, just leave a comment including any and all links to public sources and I’ll do my best to keep this up to date.

Save Icon Confusion is reverting?

What shall we do with the drunken save button?

So floppy disks are totally redundant. Very few new computers are coming with floppy drives. Ask a five-year-old kid what each of these things is:

floppy diskcompact diskSD Card

In my totally unscientific research, I asked a mother of a six-year-old if her little boy would know what these three things were:

CDs: Yes.
Memory Card: Yes.
Floppy Disk: Probably not.

So what did software developers do? Look for a new replacement.

The past

Microsoft Office X for Mac (2001) has used a ZIP disk:
Excel save icon

NeoOffice 2.x for Mac took me a while to figure out… Something akin to the Windows and OSX icon for Removable Drive?

NeoOffice save icon

Why did they have to confuse me?

The Steam Train Comparison

My reaction to this confusion was ‘why change it?’

In New Zealand, and as it turns out, Italy and Sweden, our road signs that say ‘railway level crossing’ look like this:

Railway Crossing sign for New Zealand

(courtesy ltsa.govt.nz)

But hold on, that’s a STEAM train! These trains are not around any more except for in museums and… children’s books. Of course, we all know that this sign is a train. Digging further, it turns out here in New Zealand we have a sign for ‘light rail level crossing’:

Light Rail level crossing

(courtesy ltsa.govt.nz)

What the hang is that… I guess it kinda looks like a train, but it’s electric, but it could be a tram.. huh… *SMACK!* Your car just got hit by an oncoming TRAIN. Talk about confusing and potentially fatal. Luckily, I’ve only got my learner driver’s licence, and I haven’t ever seen this sign in use.

My point is why change something that works?  Luckily, developers have caught on that the floppy disk is an international symbol:

The Present

OpenOffice 3.0 Beta has a floppy disk:

OpenOffice 3.0 Save Icon

And thankfully, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac has switched back to a floppy disk:

Excel 2008 save icon

Here’s the cincher: Google Docs, a web application that doesn’t even have access to your local computer still uses the floppy disk for its save button:

Google Docs save icon

Curious and Curiouser

Looking for further examples, I dug around. It turns out many applications don’t even have save buttons any more. Apple’s iWork doesn’t have a save button in any of their applications tool bars; you can’t even customise the tool bar to put one there either! I guess these applications are expecting you to memorise the more universal shortcut of Command+S or Ctrl+S

Conclusion

I think that we should stick with the floppy disk. It’s recognisable by all us old timers, but I think that young ones who haven’t seen a floppy disk will still know that it means ‘Save’.

But then again, isn’t just using the keyboard a lot quicker?

The Age of Expertise

After reading Andy Oram’s post on O’Reilly Radar What comes after the information age, I was struck by the fact that because I’m a tutor, I might be in the right industry!

Andy makes a case that because we have ubiquitous free documentation, in the form of text-files, wikis, videos, how-to websites, screencasts and readily available specialist books (from O’Reilly no doubt), information is no longer the problem any more. Expertise is the new scarcity. Mentors and tutors and guides and people who know how to do things is the problem now.

I have a lot of industry contact in my tertiary level tutor role at Natcoll, and I keep an eye out on the jobs available in the web development industry in Wellington that my students can go into. That’s all well and good, but we’ve had organisations like mine are having a hard time finding highly skilled staff to relieve classes and even take on full time roles, and I understand it is the same at our different campuses around New Zealand — there are just not enough people who want to get into upskilling people up. There’s no shortage of people wanting to learn the ins and outs of design and development though, with no sign of slowing.

Teach NZ is always advertising on TV and on the Wellington buses for graduates who might want to take up Secondary School teaching (high school age for you non-kiwis). Now teaching in a secondary school is not for the faint-hearted, guaranteed. But what about universities? You’d probably need to have a Masters before you could get a good job teaching at a university.

There are other ways we learn other than attending institutes too: one-on-one mentoring, attending short courses, night classes, special interest groups (SIGs) including software user groups. And then there’s the communities on line too!

So why is teaching not a popular choice?

Why aren’t many people taking up the challenge of teaching? Do the people who think they want to be a teacher end up going to teacher’s college and having the life force sucked out of them? One friend of mine has a science degree and went to a teacher’s training college here in Wellington to become a teacher, went into a high school to teach physics and science and then after doing that for a year or so, switched careers! The challenges of high school teaching aside, he said he didn’t like it. Why? I don’t know, but I’ve got some ideas.

Teaching is a selfless job. You’re there as a servant. You serve the students concepts and information, challenging their pre-conceptions and assumptions, with the goal of them ‘getting it’; seeing the cogs in their heads suddenly mesh, and switch into gear and take off!

At least, that’s why I do it. And I’m not even formally trained as a teacher. All I have is a few years industry experience and a passion for being the best I can be at what I do. And I teach so that I can change the world I live in.

The internet is sometimes called the largest and most successful collaboration between individuals and organisations in the history of the human race. The internet was created so people could communicate over long distances. So they could share ideas and discuss the implications of what they were working on or what they themselves had discovered.

Specifically, I teach web development so that it can make the internet a better place. If that previous paragraph doesn’t sound like something to spend time understanding and improving, then let me know why you think so.

I could get a career as a web developer out in the industry tomorrow; there are plenty of jobs for the people who can do things out there.

But there aren’t enough people shaping those ‘do’ers.

There aren’t enough ‘teach’ers.

There aren’t enough specialised teachers. Well at least in the web industry there’s not. Not enough people teaching the hard stuff that requires masses of prerequisite knowledge. Even though the Web is just under 15 years old, the amount you need to know to make a successful website, or even a successful online community is tantamount to experience.

If you want to create a website these days, you have to know HTML, CSS, Javascript, a server side language such as PHP, Ruby, Perl or *shudder* ASP or similar. You need to understand the design and implementation of databases and how to use SQL. You need to have an eye for design, usability. You need to have a mind for communication and writing. You need to understand the human-computer interface and it’s strengths and weaknesses and how to wield these things.

Being a web guy is hard work. Still, web developers, even ones who are good at what they do, don’t get the industry recognition they deserve: a web developer or web designer (but not a ‘web decorator‘) will get paid less than a traditional ‘software developer’ who is making applications for Windows or services for the back office. But a web developer or web designer might have to a lot more than a traditional ‘programmer’.

And that prerequisite knowledge stack is only getting larger by the day! The most published thing online (other than cat pictures and pornography) is in my opinion information about the internet itself. There are tons of sites out there detailing the technologies I allude to above.

There’s lots of information online about what we web developers do. Freely available, just waiting for you to read it, if you so desired. But I believe there’s not enough people who are making it their life’s mission to mentoring and teaching and guiding individuals through this jungle of things out there waiting to be discovered.

You can go to Te Papa by yourself and see the Britten motorcycle. But that doesn’t mean you can go to Te Papa by yourself and learn about the fascinating story behind it.

But if you have a guide, they might be able to point you in the right direction.