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Preserving Playtime

We spend a significant portion of our childhood learning through play. It’s fun and it’s intuitive and it is how we learn so many things about the world and where we fit in to it. It’s practically burnt into our ROM, if I can misuse a technology metaphor.

Dirt path in woods
As we grow older, I think many of us become embarrassed about play. I remember very clearly being told, about the impending move up to secondary school at the age of 11, that if you were seen ‘playing’ at breaktime, you’d be at the very least teased and mocked. It’s even in the name — suddenly it’s a time for a ‘break’, and not a time to ‘play’.

For me, and I suspect for many people, maintaining play as a primary way of learning and self improvement is immensely important. Many of the things I have learned, and enjoy doing today, I picked up not by heavily structured learning, but by playing around with things. I still use the word a lot when talking to people about how I’m going to investigate and solve a problem — ‘I’ll have a play around and see how far I get’.

Play, to me, means exploring ideas or practising things, apparently aimlessly, or at least without a strong sense of direction.

It’s challenging, though, to maintain playtime in a social environment that frequently sees being intensely interested in something that is directly productive as ‘weird’, or (negatively slanted) ‘geeky’, and when balancing all of the other responsibilities life will grant you.

Here’s how I try and maintain an environment that is conducive to play.

Structure the Unstructured

It becomes increasingly difficult as you get older to have the unstructured time needed to be able to be led by your curiosity to explore something new. In the 21st century, the wider variety of entertainment content available than ever before, and endless opportunities to be distracted by communications make it even more challenging.

There is an inevitability to greater time pressure when your responsibilities grow too, so with the free time you do have left, it’s important to make sure some of it isn’t filled, particularly with consuming entertainment media*. Play should be about creating your own entertainment through exploration!

Take the Geek Heat

There is a compromise you’re making here, and the cost is that some people aren’t going to understand or appreciate what you’re spending time on. Sometimes, you’re going to be risking missing out on being in the loop socially, because you’ll be consuming less of the media (mainstream and social) that others have.

You need to be prepared to figure out where the balance of this trade-off lies for you, and accept your choices about your time. It helps if other people support your choices too!


I’m immensely guilty of trying to be too structured a lot of the time. I try and keep myself as productive as possible, and do a lot of conscious self-analysis and self-management.

This kind of approach doesn’t invite play to the party. You have to listen to that quiet, subconscious sense inside you that already knows where it wants to lead you. You have to not have too many set ideas about where playtime will take you. Listen to yourself, and follow, don’t lead.

You have to be prepared to end up having not been productive quite a bit of the time, too. It is only by taking the risk of wasting time that you often discover something very valuable.

Recreation and Reward

I feel fortunate that the curiosity and excitement inside me is very much alive still. When I make sure I create the time and space to play, it rewards me — both recreationally, because it’s fun not to have a strongly pressured agenda, and because there are often more tangibly productive rewards that come about too.

When I suddenly have the desire to play with a bit of technology, or an idea, that I know nothing about, I try to make sure I have some time for that scheduled soon. I mess about, break things, fix things, poke things, observe things, until I am satisfied I know more than I did before.

I hope that I can always find a way to keep that a significant part of how I spend the rest of my time on this planet, and I’d love it if more people felt confident and proud about doing this too!

* This is why generally, no, I haven’t seen that new TV show. Sorry, but I need my playtime!

Image is ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by Andrew Butitta on Flickr. Licensed under CC-BY-SA.

Great Dorset Steam Fair 2010

One Week

Today marks just one week until I leave for Reading University to start the next phase of my education.

I’m sure most of my regular readers will know the details, but if not, I’m off to Reading Uni to do three years of Computer Science.

I am looking forward to getting started – not only is this a major step forward academically, but it is also a transition in that I will be living away from homes in university halls.

Over this last week, I’ll be putting together my final preparations, both in terms of things to take and mentally getting myself ready for what’s ahead.

So, this time next week I’ll be there. A little frightening, a lot exciting, but most of all, I really am looking forward keenly to the new opportunities.

Andover College 2008 Principal’s Award

I’ve just got back from my college‘s Celebration of Achievement Awards Ceremony.*

The general idea is to give awards to selected students from the past academic year for various achievements.

I was nominated for the Principal’s Award, described by the college as:

… [to be] presented to a student who has demonstrated an outstanding achievement or contribution to the college.

I’m delighted to say that I won the award!

Andover College 2008 Principal's Award

Unfortunately, the official photos from the event I won’t likely be able to republish here on the blog, due to good old copyright being held by the professional photographers.

I should of course take this opportunity to thank everyone at the college for the nomination and selection for the award and for letting me work with them.

This is the citation I get for why I was nominated (link added by myself):

Peter has a mature attitude to his studies in IT and college life. He consistently demonstrates a willingness to contribute his learned skills within the Department. One example was the support he provided during the configuration of hardware and software in a new Networking room. He was nominated as a mentor in the Aimhigher Mentors pilot and successfully raised the grades of the learners he supported. An outstanding achievement that must be identified is his development of a software program that support the Aimhigher Mentors pilot. The intention is to use this program throughout the college, providing managed mentoring web portal for all mentors and lecturing staff, thus allowing access to a learner support e-portfolio.

The reference to the ‘software program’ and ‘managed mentoring web portal’ is a web application I built to help organise and automate the reporting and feedback elements of the Mentoring Scheme that was running.

I will likely share more details on exactly what it is and what it does in the future and with any luck it should be implemented in Andover College for the future participants in the scheme. What I will say is that Django is awesome.

Anyway, I am again delighted to receive the award!

* Shameless self promotion alert.

Almost the End of Another Era

To follow up, I’m now done with all of my coursework, and therefore pretty much done with the whole Further Education experience as well.

I’ll still be sporadically going in next week, for what is probably the last week for a few reasons, but subject to any potential moderation and official things happening, I now know what I’m going to get.

Which, is a Distinction Distinction Distinction (DDD). Or 360 UCAS Tarrif points, if you prefer. Equivalent to three A grade A-levels. Yeah, I’ll stop now.

Again, provided that nothing unexpected and untoward happens, I’m well on my way to taking my place at Reading in October time. Looking forward to it.

General Availability

I’m going to be generally less available than I am usually, probably over the next couple of weeks, or at maximum up to the end of June.

It’s crunch time in terms of my college work and assignments, so I’m ramping up my productivity levels with that to go for a final coursework push to get everything finished and at the highest grade I can get it (yeah, I’m all coursework and no exams, so that’s my only focus 😉 ).

If I take a while to get back to you or fail to at all, I do apologise in advance, hopefully I will be able to pick back up towards the end of June and start of July when I should have a lot more spare time.

This will also affect my FOSSwire post frequency, so it might be a little bit quieter than normal over there this month. Don’t worry, things should return to normal soon.

And, with any luck, I’ll have a BTEC National Diploma at DDD 😀 (That’s equivalent to three UK A-levels at A grade by the way).

Now, I’m off to bed.

Civilization IV

I’m not usually that much of a gamer. Apart from a brief stint playing World of Warcraft, which, incidentally wasn’t really for me, I generally don’t have (or make) the time to play lots of games.

That wasn’t always the case. Back when I was at school, I used to be a lot more of a gamer than I am now, and one of the games that I grew up playing was the Civilization series.

I wasn’t ever particularly skilled at it – mostly sticking to the lower difficutly levels and playing it more for fun than seriously, but I enjoyed playing the turn-based strategy game.

I lost interest in it, but recently went out and purchased Civilization IV thanks to a random urge to come back to the series (playing it on my games-only Windows installation which dual boots with Kubuntu on my desktop PC).

Civilization IV

I’m really enjoying it. Again, I am nowhere near skilled, but Civ IV seems to get it right and go back to the series’ roots while introducing new elements, in a way which for me wasn’t done so well in III.

If, like me, you used to play the Civs, but sort of grew away from it, I would definitely recommend giving Civ IV a try (there’s a 100-turn playable demo for the Windows platform).

If you haven’t played the series before, you could very well enjoy it, but beware there is somewhat of a learning curve to get into the mindset of the Civ player. The lowest difficulty levels are a lot easier than in III, though, so I’d imagine it would be much less challenging to pick up and play than it used to be.

I’m back

… not that I actually said on here that I was going anywhere. Oops. 😛

But yeah, I’ve spent a week almost completely unplugged in South Wales, and now I’m doing the whole mad catch-up cycle to get back up and running tomorrow (there’s a certain FOSSwire target to hit this month and plenty of other offline stuff going on right now too).

If you do happen to be in the Carmarthen area, I can recommend a great little café type place called Time Coffee Bar in Nott Square in Carmarthen itself. Their website is rubbish, but the coffee is good and you can go sit upstairs and use their wifi (just make sure to ask specifically so you get the wi-fi key). Good price, good coffee, and an opportunity to get online. Can’t argue with that.


I haven’t talked about it too much, but over several months all the university stuff has been brewing.

A few days ago, I accepted an offer to go and study Computer Science at Reading University from September this year.

It’s exciting that I’ve finally sort of mostly set in stone what I’m going to be moving on to do and I’m very happy that I’ve made an informed choice and that I will be doing something worthwhile and enjoyable.

I applied to both Reading and the University of Kent, both for Computer Science. As far as the course content and credentials of the two universities, there is not a lot to choose and I think either one could have been very successful. Ultimately, the decision did come down a lot to travel distance and being somewhere that I am already somewhat familiar with.

I’m also in the process for applying for funding, the ever-so-fun student loans business, and should get my accommodation choices in the next few days as well.

The cogs that will define tomorrow have been set in motion. Or something like that.

I’m back

I am officially back from the Lake District. Well, actually, I was back on Saturday, but as always I’ve jumped straight back into all sorts of stuff and haven’t got round to updating this blog yet. Had a good time up there – did lots of walking, seeing things and just generally spending time with the family and getting away from things. Wasn’t completely unplugged, got some (expensive) wifi while I was there for a couple of hours over the week.

Actually I had re-enabled my Zooomr photos in the sidebar of my site (on all pages except blog pages). It now works as the feeds from Zooomr which got lost during the transition to the new Mark III version of the site have reappeared.

Unfortunately, I’ve decided to take them off again. Even with Magpie caching (I have a neato Magpie RSS-based parsing solution for the feed to make the photos appear on the sidebar), it slowed down the site loading times to an absolute crawl, so I’ve disabled it.

If I get time, I might redo it and do the Magpie execution via cron, store the results in a static file and just read that at runtime. But that is a big if. For now, no photos!

FOSSwire is doing amazingly well. We’re on track to hitting a very significant visitor number milestone (not telling you exactly what just yet!) by the end of this month, so right now we’re doing a massive push to get as much content in the next few days as possible.

College starts again soon – which means even less time for all this stuff, unfortunately. I have to go in on Thursday and do the whole re-enrol and all the admin tasks associated with that and then on Monday it’s back to the daily grind. 😛

In the meantime, I’ll try and keep this blog a little more frequently updated – but no promises!