Monthly Archives: November 2013

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Downloadable Library Posters

The poster images link to dropbox where the images can be downloaded


Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Google Whoodle

Released early on some international Google sites, I was alerted to the existence of this doodle by some author friends on Twitter. It is not teh first game doodle Google has released but it is now my favourite (sorry PacMan).

Good for competitions, talking about computer games and good old-fashioned fun!

Doctor Who: Starting a Library Club

Doctor Who (the television show) hits a half-century this Saturday. It was with with an eye to this that I started chatting to a group of students about the possibility of starting a Doctor Who Club. This was in late June of this year.

I knew that I was on to a winner immediately as I saw eyes light up, and you know that when people get so excited that they start talking so fast that words sometimes come out in the wrong order that something must be done! I knew that the person that should be doing something was me and so I did. I started speaking to more students about the Doctor, asking them if they were fans and what they thought about a Doctor Who club in the school. Most of the kids wanted one – and they wanted it to start immediately, I put them off until after the summer holiday and when school came back in September the first words out of a number of students mouths to me were not Hello or “How was your summer?” no they were questions on when the club was going to start.

Working together the students and I came up with a name for the club, a logo and a time to meet that would suit most members.
Personally I have never beeen a fan of the term “Whovian”.

The club had a soft launch half way through the first half-term and will have a proper launch on the Tuesday after the 23rd November.

At present discussions have been limited to favourite Doctor (a toss-up between Tom Baker and Matt Smith so far) and what people think The Day of the Doctor will be about.

Once the club is firmly established I am hoping to use the club for cross-curricular purposes, from creative writing with the English Department, discussions on ageism (one of the recurring themes of conversation so far has been about how a lot of the students do not like the idea of a Peter Capaldi Doctor as he is too old), sexism (a female Doctor anyone?) and bullying (humans are roughly treated by a number of alien races and vice versa) for PSHE. In fact any subject can be made a great deal more interesting with the addition of the Doctor. Take History – the Doctor can visit any point in time, and space which ties in the Science Department (plus the TV show with Dr Brian Cox discussing how possible the science of Doctor Who is). Citizenship can encompass discussions on Fascism (Daleks), Socialism (Cybermen) and ruling by divine right (The Time Lords on Gallifrey), RE can look at ethics with the Doctor and the Master and their actions. I am also hoping to tie in the Design & Technology Department with building a life-size TARDIS.

I am not forgetting the Library as there are hundreds of the Doctor’s adventures in book form, not to mention Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures, as well as comic books and fan fiction.

Like all clubs it depends on the members and what they would like to do, I do not want to be too prescriptive but will guide discussions and activity ideas and let them make up their minds on what they would like to do.

Also it may give me the excuse to wear a fez at work – fezzes are cool!

Read for My School Now Open to Secondary School Readers

Read for My School is a completely free national reading competition for schools in England. The competition will run in the spring term of 2014 and is open to all children in Primary School, Years 3 – 6, and Secondary School, Years 7 and 8. Children will be challenged to read as many books as they can over a two month period and may opt to submit a written piece around the power of reading and giving. At least 100,000 Pearson and Penguin books will be distributed in prizes to individual children and whole schools. This will be matched by a further donation of at least 100,000 books to charitable programmes distributing books around the world.

Children will have free access via this website to a wide-ranging library of online books, though they will also be free to read and log books of their own choice offline.

In its first year, Read for My School invited all children in Years 5 and 6 attending English primary schools to read as many books as they could from 21 January to 22 March 2013. Over 400,000 books were read by over 100,000 participants in 3,675 schools. For a fuller account see the Read for My School 2013 report. In 2014 our simple goal is to double the level of participation in Read for My School.

Read for My School is brought to you by The Pearson Foundation and Booktrust, with support from the Department for Education.


* increase the volume and variety of participating children’s reading so that they become more confident readers;
* improve attitudes to reading so that children’s reading continues beyond the end of the competition;
* strengthen the whole-school reading culture of participating schools;
* encourage children to develop a spirit of philanthropy so that they get more involved in meeting the needs of their school and wider community

Doctor Who: 11 Doctors 11 Stories

It is the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who on the 23rd November. To commemorate this auspicious event throughout the year Puffin has been publishing short stories by some of the biggest names in YA fiction.

There has been some comment online about the paucity of female writers in the collection but the authors involved have crafted amazing stories!

Eoin Colfer

Michael Scott

Marcus Sedgwick

Philip Reeve

Patrick Ness

Richelle Mead

Malorie Blackman

Alex Scarrow

Charlie Higson

Derek Landy

Neil Gaiman

11 Stories, 11 Doctors, one Time Lord
The Doctor

I have met seven of the authors in the collection over the years at various author and publishing events but the only one I have heard speak about the Doctor in person is Malorie Blackman, I even spoke to hear briefly about Daleks (it was something about the Cult of Skaro but I was so in awe at speaking to her I think I waffled a bit). Anyway… Neil Gaiman may have written two of the best television episodes in the modern canon of the Doctor, but Malorie who spoke so passionately of her love for the Doctor and Daleks is forever burned into my mind as ‘my’ Doctor Who author.

I never had a Doctor when I was growing up – unlike most fans and followers of The Doctor my first encounter with the Time Lord and his companions was not from behind the couch watching TV.

The international sanctions against the Apartheid state in South Africa were barriers that even the TARDIS could not breach.
It was during a wander round a flea market that I found two novels: Doctor Who and the Space War and Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood. Up until that time I had never heard of the Doctor but being a lad that loved science fiction I snapped them up. I read both books that weekend and the Doctor was for-evermore imprinted on my consciousness.

I felt a return to the science-fiction excitement of my youth when I started reading the 50th Anniversary Collection.

The stories run the spectrum between amazingly brilliant and insane. Even if you are not a fan of the Doctor the stories will take you across time and space!

The joy in short story collections as I have been rediscovering of late is that you can gorge yourself on the tales contained within or pick out the ones you want to read first and then go back for the rest. Not being tied to a specific incarnation I did not jump automatically to one story first but instead read my way through in order, from Colfer to Gaiman.

Even now I cannot choose a favourite story, I may one day but at the moment I love them all and am ready to pick the book up again and reread the stories with as much enjoyment as I had when I read them for the first time!

Some thoughts on Web Anonymity

We live in a stalker-friendly world what with people over-sharing more and more on social networking sites; it used to be that if a person wanted to find out what someone was up to they had to go through their garbage, stalk them for absolute ages to get an idea of what was going on or intercept their mail. Nowadays Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other applications and sites allow people to broadcast their every move.

Unlike the NSA I don’t subscribe to the view that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, I do believe that my information is private and unless I choose to make it public it should stay that way.

As a fairly prolific user of Twitter and regular Facebookista as well as being a blogger I am aware of what I put out there and how it can be used.

Facebook is pretty blatant about using their members information for advertisements and storing data for later use – even if you delete your profile there is no guarantee that the information will ever truly be gone. Websites like Delete Facebook give information on how to permanently delete your profile.

Our movements through the web leave tracks via cookies (Cookies are pieces of personal data stored when users browse the web, sometimes to power advertising) that companies use to build profiles for targeted advertising. Google is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to targeted adverts through users search habits and Gmail keyword scanning.

EU regulations have made it easier for end users to see what cookies are being saved on their computers – some for ease of use but others to monitor what people look at so they can be targeted for online sales.

Add to this the revelations of what the NSA and GCHQ have been up to with spying on online communications and previously unknown acronyms (PRISM) becoming public knowledge it has made me feel less than secure online.

Staying (relatively) anonymous online

I have been aware of The Onion Router (TOR) for ages and have even played with it for a while – it is a cross-platform program and works on Windows, OSX and Linux operating systems. There are even Android & iPhone apps that allow secure mobile browsing.
While it is true that TOR will slow your online activities a bit, it does make your web use more secure as long as you know what you are doing when you use it! The founder of The Silk Road learned this to his cost when he was arrested.

A lot has been said about how TOR allows criminals to get away with crime but it also allows political dissidents and journalists to communicate privately to avoid arrest or being disappeared.

Find out more about TOR here

Notorious bittorrent tracker Pirate Bay has released a browser bundled with TOR that allows users to surf the web anonymously.

Duckduckgo a relatively new search engine markets itself as a tracker free search site

DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information. That is their privacy policy in a nutshell.

DuckDuckGo gets its results from over one hundred sources, including DuckDuckBot (their own crawler), crowd-sourced sites (like Wikipedia, which are stored in their own index), Yahoo! (through BOSS), Yandex, WolframAlpha, and Bing. For any given search, there is usually a vertical search engine out there that does a better job at answering it than a general search engine. Their long-term goal is to get you information from that best source, ideally in instant answer form.

You can also use a Linux-based system such as TAILS – a live system that aims to preserve your privacy and anonymity. It helps you to use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship almost anywhere you go and on any computer but leaving no trace unless you ask it to explicitly.

It is a complete operating system designed to be used from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card independently of the computer’s original operating system. It is Free Software and based on Debian GNU/Linux.

You can also use a standard Linux distro for more control of your computer, personally I use Ubuntu as my home OS. Linux is incredibly secure but it cannot protect users from compromising themselves through ignorance so make sure you know what you are doing!

Tinder by Sally Gardner

Otto Hundebiss is tired of war, but when he defies death he walks a dangerous path, crossing from the battlefields of the past to a timeless world of dark magic and mystery…

While lying bloody and badly wounded Otto Hundebiss encounters Death collecting his harvest during the battle of Breitenfeld.

What happens next is either a dying fever dream or a darkly magical encounter with the supernatural.

Fairy tales were originally dark and bloody stories that were not used to entertain children until they were sanitised and had much of their violence removed. Sally Gardner turns The Tinder Box, (originally a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson) into a dark fable steeped in magic, folklore and shell shock.

Brutally paraphrasing 1 Corinthians here (and adding a bit in) When I was a child, I spoke and thought and read as a child. But when I grew up I put away childish things. I thought that I had lost the gift of being entranced so completely that the sense of wonder and thrill at being so absorbed inside a story that it was like I was there alongside Otto Hundebiss experiencing the horrors and wonders that he endured. It is a feeling I have not experienced since I was a child – it may have something to do with the connecting with the bit of my brain that loves fairy tales or it could be Sally’s skill at weaving a story of such depth and wonder that I could not help but become ensnared!

Otto is a wonderful POV character and Sally’s knack for capturing character’s voices is still as strong as ever!

Tinder is a dark and wonderful a mix of magic, witches, werewolves and curses set during the Thirty Years War in Europe – not a story for younger readers but perfect for readers that like an undercurrent of darkness entwined with their fairy tales!

Activity Idea: Stop-Motion LEGO Movie

I had been toying with the idea of making a Lego stop-motion movie for quite a while before I had the idea for a Halloween short which gave me the impetus to get started.

For the camera I used my Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, the cast was composed of a number of Lego minifigures.

The set was made out of a Lego baseplate and handmade scenery.

The most intricate part of the whole endeavour was making the bookshelf and books out of cardboard.

I was rather pleased with the finished result:

It is important to have a script, for even though it is a silent film you need to keep track of what is going to happen and where the intertitles have to be placed.

Depending on how much movement is occurring I found it best to keep scenes fairly short to prevent accidents, including fingers appearing at the wrong moment, camera and set collapse as general mishaps that would necessitate the re-shooting of an entire scene. The Lego bumps on the baseplate made it easy to keep track of where the characters are supposed to move.

Creating a Lego movie can be a good way of engaging a group of teens, you can get a group working on script development, another on set design and creation, depending on the number of scenes you want to incorporate you can have multiple phone-camera operators, Lego minifigure wranglers each controlling the movements of their character and director (or directors) who maintain overall control of the filming.

I would recommend using a mobile phone tripod to cut down on camera shake although Youtube does offer the tools to stabilise the finished movie.

Jobs for a group-made stop-motion film:

Set designers/creators
Intertitle creators
Publicity team